What’s it Like to Live in Poverty? How Well Could You Cope?

As food and commodity prices rise, more and more people may be faced with the reality of being a member of the part of society known as the working poor. There is also a growing number of seniors, military veterans, the disbabled and others who live on very low incomes. For many of these people, that means working long hours at a wage that may make it very difficult to meet the necessities of life for themselves and their families. They may have to make some tough choices about where their money should go, and for some, that can mean going without one essential in order to pay for another.

There are several different #poverty simulation exercises that can be undertaken by groups such as students, employees, politicians and social service organizations, etc. While they vary in how they operate, they all seem to have the same basic premise. How well can each participant navigate through “the system” in order to make their inadequate paycheque or pension amount last the month.

In one example, each participant is given a background story and income level. Let’s say that the person’s character will be named Jim. Jim has two children, and their mother left and pays no child support, leaving him on his own to raise them. Jim works long hours for a little more than minimum wage, and lives in a city with a very high rent. Being a typical #Canadian city, the winters can be very cold, so his heating bills are high, as are the power bills. He not only has to buy food for his children, but also provide clothing, school supplies, basic toiletries, etc., as well as all the little odds and ends that kids need for things like haircuts, over the counter medications, and other essentials. He also has to pay for his transportation to and from work and any appointments he might have for himself or his children. He will also have to pay for childcare, as he can’t leave his children alone while he is at work. That can be a large expense in and of itself.

“Jim” is then expected to make his #budget stretch to meet all of those needs, and chances are he won’t be able to do it. Even with items like subsidized transportation passes, subsidized dental and eye care for his children, etc., his pay may still fall short. For example, he may have to forgo purchasing his own #medication or paying for his own dental care in order to pay for something his children need. He may even skip meals to make sure that his kids have the food for themselves. This means he puts his health at risk, meaning there is a greater chance he could get sick and not be able to work. While he will have access to the #foodbank, for the sake of argument, it’s not anywhere near where he lives. How will he get there? How will he get the food home? There may be programs that provide support to low income families, but if he’s working long hours, how will he apply for them? How will he find time in his day to do so, or to speak to someone if their office is only open during the same hours he’s working? What if a major, unforeseen occurrence happens such as he gets sick and can’t work, he loses his job or one of his children becomes ill and he needs to take time off to be with them over an extended period of time? What if he has no family support nearby to help him out? What if he can’t pay his heating bill, his power bill, his rent ? What will he do? How will he find out where to go for help? Is there any help?

These situations are, sadly, part of the reality for too many people, through no fault of their own. While some may write “Jim” off as “lazy”, in many low paying jobs, the employees are anything but. Many of these positions require heavy labour, long hours and working conditions that are less than stellar. There are also lots of people who can’t find full time work, and have to have two, three or even more jobs. Add to their expenses the fact that for some of them, they are paying off his #studentloans as well, and you have situations that can become untenable.

What long term effect will this have on the children and their father who is trying his best to provide for them? If the children’s nutrition is poor, if they are growing up in a stressful environment, if they are lose out on chances for recreational activities because Jim can’t afford them, these may well affect their long term physical and mental health, as well as their educational outcomes. They may also have to live with the #stigma of living in poverty, which can be very detrimental.

This is just one fictional example, but for many people, it is very similar to their reality. A poverty simulation exercise can help those not in “Jim’s” situation to understand what some people have to go through in their daily lives. This can translate into improved #socialpolicies, better social programming that fits the reality of people’s situations, and just plain #empathy for those less fortunate than ourselves.


For the latest tweets from the Big Blue Bird, follow me on Twitter @EastCauthor

[Tweet “#bigbluebirdarticles, #poverty, #workingpoor”]



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