I’m an 85 Year Old Poor Woman – Poverty Simulation

 This week I participated in a poverty simulation at work.  It was extremely eye-opening.

Each participant was instructed to take a seat in a chair. The chairs were arranged in different size groups.  Around the edges of the room, were tables with signs displaying various services available – social services, police, bank, advance cash loan, food services, school.  After we were in groups, we were instructed to open our packets.

In my packet, I learned I was an 85 year old woman, fortunately in decent health. I owned my own home. I had been renting out two rooms, but the tenants left without paying. Therefore, I had to take out a loan to pay for some furnace repairs.  I received $552.00 per month in social security benefits.  My bills totalled over $800 a month – mortgage, taxes, insurance, loan repayment, medicine not covered by Medicaid, and utilities.  I also needed food and clothing.

Different family groups had small children (represented by stuffed animals), single parents, multi-family groups, illegal immigrants, and other arrangements, each of which caused their own challenges.

Each week consisted of a seven minute period during which we had to go to work (if employed), buy food for the week, pay our bills, get children to and from school (if applicable) and survive.  In our packet were some items we would need. Some of us had cash (not me).  Some had employment checks or social security.  Some had car titles (not me).  We each had 6 items that we would be allowed to pawn if we wanted.  Some people had food stamp cards and others had some transportation passes.  Each time we went to a new place, we needed to use 1 transportation pass for each person. Those represented bus passes or gas if we had a vehicle.

Week One – I immediately went to the transportation/check cashing place.  I cashed my social security check and purchased what I thought was enough bus passed for the week. Then I used a second bus pass and went to Family Services to apply for Food Stamps. I filled out my application and was in line to get processed when the week ended (time ran out).  Went home hungry.

Week Two – I went back to Family Services, using yet another bus pass. I received an EBT (food benefits) card with a weekly allotment.  I went to the food store (using another bus pass) and learned that I could only use my weekly allotment. I could not spend ahead and stock up (to save bus passed I had planned to buy the month’s worth of food at once). I purchased one week’s worth of food and my medicine that was not covered by Medicaid.  Went home.

Week Three – some of my stuff got stolen.  Suspect my prior tenants. Sat around all week filling out paperwork, waiting for law enforcement, etc.  Didn’t get to the grocery store so had to live on last week’s food.  Mortgage company delivered me a late notice.

Week Four – went to pawn shop and sold my camera and stereo. Only got $40.  Paid last month’s electric bill and this month’s gas bill. Paid mortgage. Bought food. Paid $40 on my loan (not full amount) and decided to let the phone get cut off.  Did not buy new clothing.

At the end of the month, we regrouped to discuss what had happened.  The family with two children had DSS come and investigate them because they left their child at school when a snow storm caused school to dismiss early. The family was stranded because they had run out of transportation passes.  Another family was evicted for failure to pay rent.  A third family lost their job because their child was sick and they missed work to care for their child.  The teenager in that family chose to deliver a “package” for a stranger in an attempt to earn $50 so he could go on a school field trip.  He was busted for delivering drugs.  Another family was fortunate enough to get a job, but failed to report the change to Food stamps so their benefits were cut off for a penalty period.  The job paid monthly so they had a month’s delay until the first check, but not food stamps to see them through. 

This experience was very eye-opening. I thought I had it all figured out. I had counted my stops and purchased just enough transportation passes. But then I had to decide whether to go to the grocery store once and use one transportation pass to buy all my food for the month, or use 5 transportation passes to go apply for Food stamps and go shopping each week.  Having my stuff stolen was another interruption. At the end of the month, I had eaten most weeks and paid most bills. I realized that I would survive, but only with pawning items. So where would that leave me next month?

All in all, I learned a lot. And realized just how fortunate I am. What about you? What do you take for granted?


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. risingrainbow
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 21:54:03

    With my husband being unemployed for over two years now and this horse business of mine hurting badly because of the economy and the lawsuit crap, I’m living that life waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    I try to remember that I have my health as do my husband and kids so things really could be a lot worse. Hopefully I’m taking nothing for granted.


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