Forget casino patrons, look at welfare mother

MIKE ROYKO

April 23, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

Douglas Dobmeyer is a sensitive, compassionate man. That's why he devotes himself to the cause of the downtrodden by being executive director of the Public Welfare Coalition.

Recently, his sensitivity was offended when he looked through a train window as it passed through Joliet, Ill.

He saw the parking lot of a riverboat casino, and it was filled with cars.

The sight prompted him to write to a newspaper: "I suppose the [casino] owners were ecstatic, but what about the rest of us?

"There is something perverse about people crowding a riverboat to gamble in the morning when they could be doing something more productive with their money and time.

"Is that a moral judgment? Yes, it is. Riverboats and casinos are an extension of the hedonistic lifestyle that pits the well-to-do against the poor. The money that people are throwing into the pockets of the gambling interests could be better spent on economic-development projects that produce real jobs and services for people in need of jobs."

He has a point. There are better uses for money than playing blackjack or shoving quarters into a slot machine.

But the same can be said about going to Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park, the racetracks and bingo parlors and playing the lottery. Or dropping into a tavern after work for a couple of beers and some smart talk.

Actually, I could probably fill this entire page and the next with ways that people spend money that could be put to a more socially useful purpose.

But I'm not as sensitive as Dobmeyer. So my reaction to that crowded casino parking lot would be: "Hey, it's your money."

I would assume that the casino patrons -- and those at a baseball game or the racetrack or a rock concert -- worked for their money. So who am I to tell them how to spend it?

And they might say: "Who is this guy Dobmeyer to tell me what to do with my own money?"

If so, they would have a point. If a person works for his money, pays his taxes, supports his dependents, and wants to drop a few spare dollars at the blackjack table or in some other "hedonistic" manner, where does Dobmeyer get off hitting them with moral judgments?

Also, people who go to a casino do help create jobs. The casino hires people. These casino employees pay taxes and spend money on groceries, clothing, housing, which in turn helps create or sustain jobs for people in those industries.

But that's not the point. If people want to spend their money on blackjack or a $100 dinner in a French restaurant, that's their money and their concern, not Dobmeyer's.

A few days ago, there was a story in the Chicago Tribune about the sad plight of a welfare mother.

Her apartment had burned. So she and her children were homeless and living in a motel until charitable agencies could find another apartment.

The story clearly was intended to evoke sympathy for the woman, but I suspect it had the opposite effect.

That's because the unmarried woman was only 27 years old but already had nine children.

Sure enough, I received several calls and notes about the woman.

One woman said: "If I had nine cats, people would think I was a crazy old lady. She has nine kids, and we have to support them."

Some of the callers suggested that the woman had those kids so she could get rich off welfare.

They're mistaken. The most the woman can receive is $669 in welfare payments, $833 in food stamps, and an extra $40 for having infants. That's $1,542 a month.

Does anybody want to raise nine kids -- rent and 27 meals a day -- on about $385 a week?

I doubt it. But does this woman's struggle and problems mean that casino patrons are engaging in something perverse, as Dobmeyer put it?

Most of them would respond: "Who told her to have them? Didn't she know how much it costs to raise nine kids? And where is the hyperactive father, and why isn't he helping support them?"

Dobmeyer would consider those questions insensitive, ignorant and cruel. His organization is devoted to increasing welfare benefits, not discouraging unmarried teen-agers from becoming parents.

Instead of rapping casino patrons, Dobmeyer might try poking a few numbers into his pocket calculator.

If each of these nine kids has nine of their own, that's 81. And if they keep up the 9-to-1 pace, in a few generations they would go from 81 to 729 to 6,561 to 59,049. That's a lot of meals, shoes and classrooms. Let us hope for restraint.

How much is nine times 59,049? I don't want to think about it.

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