I spent a month in poverty on March 15 at the Showboat Pavilion in Texas City. We lost our home despite every effort. I’m a college educated computer scientist, my wife a full-time receptionist. We were not lazy, cheating or any other negative stereotype. And no health problems.
One month consisted of four, 15 minute weeks during this poverty simulation. Led by Tanya Rollins of Child Protective Services we were assigned roles. Each family was provided a detailed budget and social history. The packet was full of cards similar to a complex monopoly game. Very realistic.
On $1,333 per month we had food for only one week, kept only one of our cars operating — no money for gas. We received $66 per month for food stamps — really an agricultural program.
Our 8-year-old son acted out at school after being bullied. Hungry 8-year-olds do not make for the best students. Sent to juvenile detention he did get an education. He learned it was more profitable to sell drugs than be a computer programmer.
Our 14-year-old son was disgusted with me for always going by the rules. Our 16-year-old daughter, pregnant by an 18-year-old dropout who disappeared as soon as she began showing. Her B average soon dropped to D’s.
My wife’s check was eaten up by my college loan payment, utilities and gasoline for another week. Then Rollins handed me a card stating I lost a week after a drive-by shooting. I need to protect my home.
We were always rushing. To the employment office, school for conferences, the pawn shop, to government agencies which were closed when we were available, and to private agencies who had little to offer.
If someone developed a dysfunctional system by design they could not have done a better job. Policies are calculated to punish the poor or else agencies would provide at least as good of service as all-night fast food shops.
We were a smart, strategic family. Yet we were foiled at every turn. One third of those in the large room were homeless at the end of the month. Oh, and I got a job offer, but with no address it was withdrawn. My son was right I should’ve lied. We were exhausted physically and emotionally.
After an important debriefing, we were served a wonderful lunch. Roasted chicken, green beans, stuffing — I got the crust, hmm, catered by Soul 2 Soul restaurant at Market and 31st streets in Galveston.
Rollins provided a booklet of facts and studies, documenting the terrible truth that if you weren’t born white you will be disproportionately poor. One fact, the living wage in our county is $21.59 per hour with one child, yet the minimum wage is $7.25. Work three jobs and you can live here. Those are the facts, even in our ever-more-fact-free society.
How convenient for those who have wealth. For the rest there is an embarrassing life of poverty. A national policy agenda is available to promote economic security. If interested, visit www.classp.org.