Editor’s Note: Connect contributor Pat Longstreth participated in the most recent Poverty Simulation, a frequent event organized by Step Up Savannah for over a decade. He was inspired to file a three-part special report on his experiences. Here is Part Two.
Tune in next week for part 3 of 3, where Rita gets a gun.
IN PART ONE of the simulation, I stumbled more than a few times playing the role of my assigned character, Rita Rodgers, a 20-year old new mother who lives with her Dad and brother.
My family ran out of transportation passes (required with every transaction), I failed an exam at “College,” and my 1-year old, Ryan, and brother, Roland, were picked up by child services because I left them home alone.
I was determined to turn things around and get started at my part-time job. But first, I had to drop off Ryan at childcare, which required either a voucher or $85 per week, which I couldn’t afford.
I headed back to Social Services to see if my application for a voucher had been approved.
The woman in charge at Social Services was sitting there gazing around the room and appeared not busy. In haste, I approached her directly. “Hey, can I get my voucher now?” I demanded.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am, but you’ll need to wait in line and see my secretary first,” she responded with a smile.
I looked over and saw a line of people and the “Secretary” staring at me. I apologized profusely and then waited patiently while reflecting on my rude behavior.
What had happened to my usual respectful demeanor with customer service people? How had the demands of this game turned me into a frenzied boor?
When I got to the front of the line the Secretary collected my “transpo pass” and I suddenly realized I was about to run out of them once again. In order to drop off Ryan at childcare and then get to work, I would need at least two more passes.
As the Secretary handed a childcare voucher into my right hand, I used a magician’s sleight to grab a transpo pass off the table with my left hand. It was a desperate snap decision that I justified for the greater good of my family.
“We see criminal activity almost every time,” said Kate Blair, Director of Development and Communications at Step Up Savannah. “In our corporate events, I’ve seen CEOs turn to crime very early in the simulation.”
When you sense the game is rigged, cheating becomes the only path to success.
With a few minutes left in the week, I finally arrived at my part-time job at the Food Super Center. My boss reviewed my paperwork and informed me that the pay was $50 per week.
“Now go back there and stock some cans or whatever,” he said.
There were no actual cans to stock (or any physical work) so I stood behind the table and observed. Across the room I could see “Dad” and other people joking around at the General Employer.
They were getting paid a lot more than me for their skilled labor. Working there required forklift certification, an associate’s degree, or specialized training.
Jealousy turned to hopelessness as I did the math in my head and realized my paycheck wouldn’t contribute enough to our rent. We would probably get evicted like some of the other families whose chairs had been turned upside down.
After the simulation, Step Up Savannah lead a group discussion about possible solutions for real-life poverty. One woman remarked, “employers shouldn’t just pay people the minimum they can get away with. They should try as hard as possible to pay their employees a living wage.”
Blair noted that for a single adult with two children in Savannah, the living wage is $28 per hour.