I’ve never experienced real poverty. I’ve lived on a restricted budget as a college student and as a young married parent. I’ve never gone hungry, or been at risk of being homeless, or at my wits’ end about where to go or what to do simply survive.
But I got a glimpse of what it feels like by participating in a clever and realistic simulation presented by Bucks County Opportunity Council. The simulation lasted only an hour (four 15 minute weeks) but it drove many of the participants frantic with frustration.
We had to deal with bureaucratic delays and lines, lack of time and resources to do the basic things needed to pay bills, buy food, get to and from work, care for our children. We faced exploitation by payday lenders and banks. We could easily imagine the plight of those in poverty, as we tried to juggle priorities and prevent eviction, utility shut-offs, missed meals. We experienced frustration, outrage, despair, and seething anger. Little wonder that marriages fail, children get into trouble, and adults resort to crime. Life with few prospects and little hope can drive a person to desperation.
The take away is profound empathy for people who can’t make it without public assistance. They not only need help to survive, they need emotional support and encouragement in organizing to get on a path to self-sufficiency. Going it alone is a recipe for failure.
The Bucks County Courier Times writer James McGinnis described the experience well:Poverty CT 181025
Don’t assume that those you love are above this situation. Wages have not grown with the rest of the economy. In real dollars they have been flat for decades. In the sixties we though that shelter should cost about 25% of a families income. Now families spend 30 to 50% to keep a roof over their heads. Recent surveys show that a shocking 80% of working families live paycheck to paycheck and have little or no savings. A $1,000 emergency becomes a crisis. Poverty is just one home accident or bit of bad luck away.
Each minimum wage job pays about $15,000 a year before taxes. It takes $60,000 a year for a family of 4 to live independently in Bucks County.
To make ends meet, an unskilled or semi-skilled person and their spouse might need three or four jobs. Minimum wage jobs rarely offer benefits or even stable employment. Nor are they easy or fun.