poverty: the stress of a downward spiral [day 287]

My rent payment is $286.  My utilities are $190 this month.  I don’t own a phone, I don’t have a job and I have a baby to take care of.  My name is Iris Isaacson… but only in this temporary make-believe world.  This world I’m speaking of is a poverty simulation, a game to teach people what it’s like to live in poverty.

I participated in this event last night.  At first, I thought it seemed like a lot of work and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there.  In the middle of it, I was thinking, “…what a chaotic game…”, but also realizing much of it was like real life.  At the end of it, I was worn out.  I couldn’t pay my bills, the ones I did pay were late, I had to pawn my jewelry, sold my camera, and after all the hardships and paying everything late, I got evicted anyway.  Here’s a description of the simulation.

The Poverty Simulation is a simulation experience developed by the Missouri Association for Community Action. During the simulation, participants pretend to be members of a low-income community attempting to survive four 15-minute weeks of poverty. The simulation relies on role playing techniques and extensive props to help participants understand the day to day challenges faced by families living in poverty. 

I didn’t think I could be stressed out by play money, but I was.  I’ve had many times in my life where things were extremely tight financially, but never to the extreme where I couldn’t pay my bills.  Definitely where I had no extra though.  I had limited food, had to get a roommate and couldn’t take care of car or home repairs.  I was not at poverty level, but close to it, but also trying to live a little bit above my means.

Although the simulation was a lot of work, and somewhat stressful, it was very eye-opening.  I did things that are completely out of character for me.  I lied on some paperwork because the social worker was horribly mean to me and I didn’t have all the information with me that I needed.  I didn’t understand how my food stamps worked and nobody would help me.  That meant not feeding my family for a week, then having to spend $55 I didn’t have on groceries.  Some people in the room resorted to stealing, others selling drugs (sugar packets).  The lady at the pawn shop said she couldn’t buy my stuff as she had an overstock of everything.  I begged her, telling her I wouldn’t have to consider prostitution.  Social services was awful, completely screwing with me, and at some point, I walked away in defeat.  I couldn’t help thinking how often that happens in real life, to real people that are experiencing the lowest of lows in their lives.

Here’s a few things I walked away with.  No, I didn’t steal stuff like some of the people. I mean lessons I walked away with.

  • There’s no easy way to learn where all the resources are if you’re in need of help.
  • If you don’t have any money, you can’t have a checking account.  If you don’t have a checking account, most places charge astronomical fees for cashing checks.
  • It’s difficult to prioritize what debt you will pay, as there’s more debt than cash in many cases.  Do you pay the rent or some of the small stuff and feed your family?
  • People were doing things they normally wouldn’t do.  Survival mode kicks in.  It’s a rare occasion that I lie, but I did on my social services paperwork.  Not to get more money out of the system but to get what I was supposed to get in a timely manner.  Had I not lied, I would have missed another week with no benefits.
  • A lot of people go hungry in efforts to try and keep their homes and utilities on.
  • Suburbs don’t want homeless shelters, as they think it will increase crime in their area, however, people that are desperate and on the streets are the ones resorting to crime to meet their basic needs.  If we had shelters, it would probably lower the crime or it would stay the same.
  • People struggling will get one thing paid, then 3 more show up.  It’s a downward spiral that is difficult to get out of.
  • Many of these people operate on a cash basis, therefore making them vulnerable to being robbed or mugged.

There are also some interesting statistics.

  • Only 13% of people living below the poverty line receive government assistance.
  • Most of the poverty is in suburbs now.
  • Minimum wage in Texas is $7.25 per hour.  Poverty level for a family of 3 (which describes me) is $8.46 per hour.  That’s based on a 40 hour work week, 52 weeks a year living with the basics and nothing more.
  • 24% of the kids living in Texas live in poverty, 10% in extreme poverty.
  • 49% of kids live in low-income families

I want to live within my means and I want to be good with my money.  Not retail shopping feels even better after this experience.  I really have no intention of shopping once this year is up.  I like living more in this new realm of minimalism, saving money for a rainy day and sharing my blessings with others.  I only hope I can find a way to help people living in extreme poverty situations.  Small changes really can lead to a big impact.

One Response to “poverty: the stress of a downward spiral [day 287]”

  • Nancy Says:

    Jody, thanks so much for doing this and for taking the time to give such a good sketch of what the experience was like for us. I’m grateful for you!