The only people who really understand poverty are those who have lived it.
That was the purpose of a poverty simulation exercise Thursday at Estherville Lincoln Central Middle School. Staff gathered throughout the gym, commons and weight room for two and a half hours to deal with a simulated exercise in which they had to buy groceries, pay rent and utilities, pay medical bills and get their kids to school - all while struggling to make ends meet.
Initially addressing the gathering were Jan Burke of Iowa State University Extension and Crystal Clabaugh of Emmet County Extension. Dubbing the exercise, "Sea of Poverty", Burke said the exercise was designed to show participants what it would be like to live for one month on a limited income.
Banker Kristi Radtke helps ‘Barney Benson’, 69, (Robert Bosma), as banker Greg Deim helped ‘Stella Smith’, 85, (Donna Lauritsen), in a workshop, “Sea of Poverty”, at Estherville Lincoln Central Thursday. The purpose of the workshop was to acquaint Estherville Lincoln Central staff with the real-life experiences of lower-income families. Bosma and Lauritsen were tasked with the dilemna of many seniors — trying to choose between buying medicine and putting food on the table.
EDN photo by Michael Tidemann
"This is not a game," said Burke. "The statistics and situations are real life."
Burke said 39.4 percent of households in poverty are headed by women with no husband present. Emmet County has an 11.9 percent poverty rate, slightly above the 11.6 percent state average. Locally, 48 percent of students attending Estherville Lincoln Central qualify for free and reduced lunches.
"Poverty is not a game for millions of people who struggle to make ends meet," said Burke, previewing the day's activities of the introduction, the simulation activity and reflection.
Burke also stressed the importance of the mutual survival of the family unit with the goals of feeding the family, keeping utilities on, making loan payments, keeping children in school and meeting unexpected situations.
Burke said each 15-minute period represented one week, or an hour for the four-week simulation.
And Burke stressed the importance of transportation. A pass was required for each visit to community services. Each family represented a typical low-income family in the mid-poverty level.
"Try to think and act like that person in real poverty," said Burke."
Right away, the 'Morris' family started to sort out their priorities. "Why do we need a cedar chest?" asked 'Melinda', 10, (Joan Lauritsen). And 'Matt', 17, (Dave Johnson), said if the family was charged with keeping their home secure that maybe they should buy a gun. "That's something we need to consider, maybe," said Matt/Dave.
Participants role played not only different ages but genders. Lili Jensen played 'Winona Wiscott', 72, while Robynn Hanson played 'Warren Wiscott', 75.
Lili/Winona said the elderly couple they played faced enormous time constraints because of the lines they had to stand in only to find the business or utility office would be closed and they could do nothing about it - a problem many of us never have to face.
"It just brings to mind the time issue," Jensen said. "I'm thinking I'm very grateful."
The Wiscotts were $149 short every month in having enough money to meet expenses and had to make up the difference through fuel assistance and food stamps.