Robinson's struggle is mirrored by nearly one out of every three people who call Orangeburg County home. An hour west of Charleston's mushrooming suburbs, the county of 90,000 is 10th in the nation for the percentage of people living in poverty, based on the latest U.S. Census figures for counties 65,000 and larger. Poverty is defined as a family of four having an income of $20,614 or less or individuals making $10,294 or less a year.
Compounding Orangeburg's struggle is a lack of an educated work force — only one out of 7 people have at least a bachelor's degree — and a soaring unemployment rate of 10 percent, a figure higher than Argentina's rate.
- Two members of County Council, including their last Chairman,
- the last Sheriff,
- a municipal Treasurer for Orangeburg, and
- a Police Chief and Town Clerk in Santee.
It can't be easy to recruit good-paying jobs to a county whose last County Council Chairman pled guilty to offering a no-bid opportunity to buy the county hospital.
All the federal pork money intended to "prime the pump" won't help a community that doesn't want to clean up it's act first, and who has a number of key public officials that are out for their own benefit, instead of that of their community. We shouldn't be surprised to find that public corruption and governmental incompetence is far more prevalent in many impoverished communities.
While there are many problems confronting poor rural areas like Orangeburg County, few of them can be addressed as easily as public corruption. Working to stomp out corruption and help make sure their public servants are looking to put public service ahead of personal enrichment is a good first step.
Taking that first step is, in part a responsibility of watchful state and federal officials, who have done an admirable and patient job weeding the county of its crooked officials. But it's also the responsibility of the people of the county, who largely give incumbents a free pass at the polls in one of the state's most one-party counties (which hasn't elected a Republican to any office since 1992).
While this is not to say one party has a monopoly on virtue (we know that's not the case), the lack of effective political competition, both inside and between political parties, isn't healthy for any community. In the case of Orangeburg County, the willingness of voters to accept the status quo been a recipe for disaster.