When American programs to help the poorest citizens are compared to East African countries we do pretty well…right? No one is starving death and almost no one is living in a house made of garbage. I run a school in Kenya called Daylight Center so I am often comparing the two regions in my mind. But what many don’t realize is that America and Kenya have the same wealth inequality rating according to the United Nations.*
We appear to be better than Kenya because our poor are richer than Kenya’s poor, but what many forget is that the top 1% of America’s earners are far richer than Kenya’s. American leaders are struggling to cut and or tax their way through a veritable financial jungle. Nearest I can tell, the current battle seems to be over who should pay for the future of America.
So, in order to help people see things in a new light I want to compare America to East Africa. Let’s take two examples, side-by-side, and compare: Minnesota USA vs. Kenya, Africa…
In Minnesota a family on government assistance often lives in subsidized housing, though through relationships I’ve built with some families, I’ves seen up to 10 people living in a one or two bedroom apartment. Below you’ll see the 2 bedroom low-income apartment I lived in during college with 5 people. In Kenya a low-income or no-income family receives no government help and lives in a shanty made of garbage.
All neighborhoods in Minneapolis, MN have free public schools and feature classrooms with at least 1 computer. Free Public Education is rare in Kenya. Most Kenyan schools cost around $300 a semester and have a few books, a blackboard, and no computers.
Minnesota also has a health care program called MinnesotaCare which provides free health care for citizens who are on welfare programs, although not everyone is covered, many are. In Kenya all medical bills are paid in cash, there is no health care insurance for most people. So many people die from treatable illnesses like malaria and pneumonia.
America might have a higher standard of care for its most vulnerable, but if the income inequality is the same in both countries what could America accomplish? What happens when you compare America against its own potential? In America, the riches 1% make an average of 440 times as much money as the bottom 50% of Americans.** Comparing low income apartments and mansions changes the way I see the choice between cutting government assistance or taxing the rich.
Schools in America are not all performing at the same level. The group Closing the Achievement Gap headed by Alma and Colin Powell reported in 2009 that there was a large gap between the average high school graduation rate of 53 % in urban schools, compared with 71 % in the suburbs. It’s true that America provides free public education to all, but the outcomes seem to be radically different. And let me just mention that we spend 15 times more money on military than on education ($45 Billion vs $689 Billion).***
And Americans spend about the same on the Military, Health Care for the poor and elderly, and Social Security. Do Americans really value war that much? So what kind of America could we live in? Who will pay for our future? Do we want to cut funding to our students and low income earners or will we ask our richest citizens (remember 440 times richer!) to bring our country into the future?
You might even want to ask yourself an oldie but a goodie…WWJD?