Simulating the Hard Reality of Poverty

Food and transportation vouchers used in the simulation.

The Multicultural Leadership Program’s annual poverty simulation offers a striking look into the lives of individuals and their families living in poverty, who make up a larger part of our community than many might expect.

The simulation will be held on Saturday, Oct. 20 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at YWCA McLean County (1201 N. Hershey Rd., Bloomington); arrival and check-in will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. YWCA McLean County is a co-sponsor of this year’s simulation. Staff training for this simulation comes from a grant from the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation, and the poverty simulation materials are provided by the Illinois State University Department of Family and Consumer Sciences.

The event is free and open to the public.  Both participants and volunteers are asked to register in advance. 

Participants in the poverty simulation will experience an approximation of a month in poverty, filled with the hardships and the impossible decisions – between food and clothing, between healthcare and monthly rent – that millions of Americans are forced to make every day.

Participants are grouped into families who must work together to provide for themselves.

More than 20,000 of those Americans live here in McLean County, according to the 2018 Illinois Poverty Report conducted by Heartland Alliance. In addition to poverty and unemployment rates, the report takes into account factors such as McLean’s teen birth rate, food insecurity rate, and share of working families receiving SNAP, all of which are higher than the state average.

The Multicultural Leadership Program (MCLP) has held this event for ten years as part of its work to develop leaders with an understanding of diverse perspectives, including those from marginalized populations. As local leaders, MCLP participants are called to address the needs of the community, especially those who find themselves financially and socially prevented from voicing their concerns.

Studies examining participant attitudes towards poverty before and after a poverty simulation have found that participants develop more positive views about the poor taking into account a broader picture of the situation. One such study, published in the Journal of Nursing Education, found that nursing students who took part in the simulation shifted blame away from an individual’s failure and instead saw failure in social policy to address an individual’s needs.

MCLP hopes that Bloomington-Normal residents of all ages and backgrounds will take part in this eye-opening glimpse into how poverty affects people’s lives. Through this simulation, participants will come away from the experience with a deeper awareness and empathy for the millions of Americans who don’t need a simulation to know what a life of poverty means.

Click here for a downloadable Poverty Simulation 2018 flyer.

By Rachel McCarthy ’21

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