From the Kalamazoo Gazette, writer Rebecca Bakken attended the simulation.
Five Western Michigan University social-work students were put in the shoes of the fictional poverty-stricken Aber family on Oct. 19.
With one unemployed parent, a pregnant 16-year-old daughter and a nearly drained bank account, the family members had to figure out how to pay their bills, get to work and feed their other two small children, an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old, with their limited resources.
The students, along with about 40 other social-work students, were taking part in the Poverty Reduction Initiative’s Poverty Simulation Workshop to see what it is like to be an average family living in poverty.
The students were given packets of information about their new identities and had to make their way through a month of dealing with banks, social services and the police, among other agencies. The students dealt with volunteers playing the roles of people working at such sites.
The students posing as the Abers budgeted as they could with the information given to them. They went to a loan center where they had to take out a $50 loan with a 30 percent interest rate.
When Mrs. Aber was late getting to work because she was getting a transportation pass, her employer put her on probation. Meanwhile, Mr. Aber could get only $25 for a $100 stereo at a pawnshop and was given a notice that he had $500 in outstanding loans from a bank. The Aber children all came home from school that day with school-supply needs, and the family received a malnutrition warning because it had failed to get groceries.
“At the end, some are left in the hole and some maintain,” said Barbara Barton, assistant professor of social work at WMU.