Student Social Experiment Shows Realities of Poverty

Imagine getting a check for $1,452 every month from the government. Now try and pay for rent, utilities, food, clothing and medical costs and loan payments.

Students in Social Work 200, Introduction to Social Work, were given the opportunity to experience what it’s like to survive in conditions such as these in a simulation that mirrored the struggles low-income families have to go through.

The students were packed into a room, separated into families ranging from elderly couples surviving on Medicaid/Medicare to single parents with kids who needed baby sitters and had to get to school.

Provided with barely enough resources for the month, students had to live out their lives paying rent, bills, getting loans and hopefully having enough money left to buy food.

Sue Grey, a vice president with the local United Way and simulation director, said the exercise aims to create an awareness of how difficult it is to survive in low-income situations.

One in eight families in the United States are surviving in low-income situations; in some areas, it’s one in six, Grey said.

The federal poverty level for a family of four is less than $22,000 per year. She said families living in extreme poverty scrape by on half of that.

“In this economy, more and more families are feeling the crunch, and for the first time are visiting food pantries. People are experiencing issues they’ve never had to worry about before,” Grey said.

Carly Walker, freshman in DGS, played the role of Xavier Xanthos, a 75-year-old male who required monthly medication. She said she felt “overwhelmed” when she compared the bills that needed to be paid to the lack of money she had.

Sophomore Sheriah Mason played the role of Xanadu Xanthos, Xavier Xanthos’s 72-year-old wife.

During week two of the simulation, Walker’s character was robbed of all her money at gunpoint. Walker said they paid all their bills, but now they had no money left for food. Mason and Walker considered going to an illegal serviceman to strike a deal. They discussed what they could do and decided to start pawning their belongings.

In week three, “luck of the draw” cards were passed out, and the Xanthos family caught a break. A neighbor needed a baby sitter and would pay one member of the family $20 to watch their kids.

“It’s the luckiest thing that’s ever happened to me,” Walker said.

Although it was just a simulation, Walker said it felt like she was living in it.

Samantha Hack-Ritzo, adjunct lecturer for one of the sections, said she “hopes this will allow the students to understand how many obstacles people in poverty face.”

Hack-Ritzo said she also noticed a change in demeanor among the students.

Students said they realized how grateful they were for even the little things, and how accomplished they felt getting daily tasks done.

At the end of the simulation, Walker and Mason said they felt they did a pretty good job getting by, considering they were “robbed” and had to pay deposits they didn’t know they had to pay. However, they didn’t eat for several weeks and never finished paying their medical bills.

“There are opportunities for people to transition into a life that makes ends meet, but it’s not easy,” Grey said about ways to get out of poverty. “It’s a complicated system, making it really hard.”

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