What is it Like to Live in Poverty?

Written by Lisa Assenmacher, Communications & Training Specialist

“We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.”

Be Great 004This famous statement by Nelson Mandela rings true for people working to create vibrant communities and provide supportive services for people. Serving our communities, we all have a basic understanding of economic disparity and the associations that come along with it. However, if we all have different life experiences and come from different backgrounds, can we truly empathize if we don’t share similar stories?

Further, can we really provide the highest level of service if we aren’t sure of the different needs and opportunities in our communities?

Poverty Simulation

Be Great 039CEDAM facilitates poverty simulations to help staff better understand what it’s like to live in poverty. This interactive training puts everyday challenges into perspective by providing participants with a new persona for their time in poverty. During the simulation, participants go to work, take care of their children, visit the grocery store, bank and community agencies and try to end the simulation in a better situation than they began.

In most cases, participants at some point feel frustrated, are broke and can’t quite do what it takes to make ends meet or get everything accomplished in time.


Be Great 010The poverty simulation allows participants to consider another person’s circumstances and compare it to what they think we already know about life in poverty. It also reminds attendees about all the resources that can be utilized to help the people served by their organizations.

With this resonance, we as service providers can do a better job serving our community. Our interactions with each other shape our experiences. Using perspective along with every possible piece of information that we have makes one less barrier toward a better future for somebody who is just trying to make it.


CEDAM is hosting a poverty simulation at the Building Michigan Communities Conference on Monday afternoon. All conference participants can join and work with people from different organizations.

We will also travel to your community to host a poverty simulation. Learn more at cedamichigan.org/resources/poverty-simulation.