During my first day as a College Access Coordinator, The Center For Community Engagement and Service at PLU hosted a Poverty Simulation, using Missouri Community Action Network’s Poverty Simulation kit (Learn more about the organization and the kit here: http://www.povertysimulation.net/). The participants of the poverty simulation were Franklin Pierce School District teachers, who were participating to gain a greater understanding of the hardships that many of their students were facing at home. In the Poverty Simulation, participants are divided into families, given a packet containing their circumstances (how many children are in the family, monthly income, housing situation, etc.), as well as prompts which directs them to various social services organizations (utility companies, pawn shops, banks, Department of Social Services, etc.) The activity is divided into four sessions, where each “family” is given different circumstances each session.
As a facilitator, I was in charge of the Utility Company and accepted payments, issued statements, and suspended utility services. As I sat back and observed the participants, I noticed that during the first two sessions, many of the participants were viewing the activity as a game- laughing, skipping around the gym, and even cracking poverty jokes (which caused me to side eye many of them). I was honestly floored by the privilege oozing from the educators as they skipped across the gym in Northface gear with BMW keys jingling in their pockets. As a person who has experienced poverty, as well as work with individuals trapped in the cycle of poverty, I noticed that I had begun to get irritated with many of the participants who were mocking the activity ,which caused me to slam the hammer down on them even more to get the point of the activity across (I was not lenient with payment arrangements with these individuals, gave cut-off notices without warning, and did not honor the payments of these individuals if they did not ask for a receipt) However, after the second session of the activity, many “eviction notices” and “cut-off notices” began to be issued, and I noticed that the laughter had begun to turn into frustrating sighs and groans. By the fourth session of the activity, I even noticed that many participants were having panic attacks.
“It isn’t so funny now, is it? Welcome to poverty!” I thought to myself. I thought about how many students in this district came to school hungry because their families benefits were cut, how many students came to school and couldn’t complete their homework the night before because their utilities were turned off, and how many students had to skip school to babysit for their parents because DSHS Childcare benefits were nixed and their parents not working is not an option. – and their instructors initially thought that it was a joke. This made me issue even more cut-off notices to the participants.
During our debrief, we went around the room to discuss our observations and opinions on the exercise. Many of the educators who mocked the activity in the beginning shared that they were floored by the many barriers that families in poverty face. Listening to the testimonies of the participants motivated me to continue to call out priviliges, check my own privileges, and continue to adovcate for social change for the benefit of marginalized groups- especially Black and Brown and low-income youth.