Poverty Simulation

The Poverty Simulation is a unique and enlightening experience to help individuals begin to understand what life is like with a shortage of money and an abundance of stress. It really brings home the grinding experience of poverty, so that the haves can grasp what the have nots deal with all the time.  It also encourages everyone to talk about how communities can address the problem collectively. Most importantly, it encourages people to make a difference.

In the simulation, participants assume the roles of up to 26 different families facing a variety of challenging, but typical circumstances. Some are homeless, others have recently become unemployed, and some are suddenly faced with the responsibility of raising grandchildren.  In addition, volunteers play the roles of resource providers, such as social workers, loan officers, employers, pawnbrokers, grocers, utility collectors, police officers, and teachers.  The program is conducted in a large room representing the overall town or community.

Participants are seated in family clusters, and community resources are located at tables around the perimeter of the room. To start the simulation, each family is given a card explaining its unique situation, as well as a small amount of “money.”  Then, the families must secure food, shelter, and other basic necessities by accessing the various resources during the course of four, 15-minute “weeks.”  The simulation lasts approximately three hours and includes an introduction and briefing by a facilitator, the simulation exercise itself, and a debriefing in which participants and volunteers share what they have learned about living in poverty.  The Poverty simulation leaves a lasting impression on participants and communities.

Families and individuals living in poverty face multiple challenges every day.  They often must ask themselves: how will I pay for the gas to get to work? How can I afford the medicine I need to live and the food I need to be healthy? How will I stretch my limited income to pay for rent and child care this month? How will I cash my paycheck when no bank will accept me as a customer? And what if something unexpected happens that lands my family on the streets?  Often, poverty and hunger lead to increased emotional and financial stress, increased risk of illness, poor school performance by children, poor productivity by working adults, and ultimately a cycle of struggling that can seem insurmountable.

The Poverty Simulation can mean different things to different participants. For resource providers, it can help them to better identify with the needs of their customers. For community leaders, it can help them to create and implement policies and programs that address the issue of poverty more effectively. For young people, it can help them to gain empathy and appreciation for the diverse world around them. For everyone, it can inspire a commitment to make a positive difference in their communities.