Poverty Simulations Can Help You Better Serve Your Clients

By Susan Andrews, CEDAM membership & event specialist

From food insecurity to housing, those who live in poverty face many challenges. With more than 12 percent of Americans living in poverty in 2017 (or nearly 39.7 million people), it is important to understand life in poverty to better serve clients, customers and constituents. A poverty simulation is designed to bring an individual a better understanding of living life in poverty by addressing a multitude of challenges. When taken all together, the experience helps the participant feel something closer to actually living a month in poverty.

In a simulation hosted by CEDAM, each individual is placed into a role such as a single parent, a grandparent or maybe a young student. The situations are drawn from the stories of real Americans working and living in poverty. The simulation is broken down into four, 15 minute weeks. Each person has to figure out issues such as paying rent, getting to and from their job, applying for assistance, keeping their utilities turned on, securing childcare and feeding themselves and their families. Sometimes an individual will be just barely making it when they are dealt a setback. Something like a car repair can throw them into a cycle of debt from which they cannot recover. There are really hard choices to be made, such as paying for the car to get repaired so you can get to work, or buying food and paying rent. Because the situations are real, the roles vary. There are some individuals who end up not making it. They lose their homes, they fail to feed their families or they encounter trouble because they are not caring for their children properly. 

A guided discussion works through what each participant encountered during their month and how the experience left them feeling. Some say they were not only shocked by the lack of money but by the lack of time, and the additional costs associated with being poor including late fees, fees to cash paychecks and more. The participants leave with not only a better understanding of what life in poverty feels like but they know how poverty impacts the person’s interactions with them as providers of services to low-income Americans. To learn more about CEDAM’s Poverty Simulation program watch this video and visit http://cedamichigan.org/resources/poverty-simulation/.