CUNA Management School, Year 2/Day 5: Simulating Poverty

This entry was posted by Monday, 16 July, 2012
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From Greg Langen:  When I was asked to help run the poverty simulation during CUNA Management School, I didn’t quite know what to expect, having only my experience of living in half-dilapidated college apartments to draw from. As it turns out, my view of poverty being simply a low number in a savings account proved to be incredibly naïve, barely touching upon the systematic challenges that keep millions of hard working Americans from ever breaking into the middle class.

Early last Thursday morning I arrived at Smith Hall, well caffeinated and happy for the break in my normal work week routine, to act as a school teacher during the simulation. To start, Year 2 CUNA Management School students were separated into “families” of various sizes, wealth and opportunity, all with the same goal of ending the four “weeks” (each week a fifteen minute session) financially better off than they started.

 Just shortly after getting settled into families, “life” happened. Groceries needed to be purchased, rent needed to be paid, social mobility had to be attained, the standard gig. I occupied only one corner of these families’ lives , with other volunteers filling in various life roles, such as mortgage lender, social case worker, employer, payday loan salesman, police officer and my personal favorite, mischief enticer, a person whose sole purpose was to seduce Year 2 students to resort to unsavory methods of making money.

Overworked, underappreciated and ignored at every turn, Year 2 students did what they could to scrape by week by week. Some were lucky, finding charitable aid, steady employment and support through their family members to climb up the economic ladder. Others, however, did not fare as well, suffering unforeseen expenses such as medical bills and job layoffs. And still others turned to crime to achieve the American Dream. You’d be surprised at how easy that choice seemed to be to some Year 2 students.

 My job was no picnic either, leading a class of 40+ students through lessons many attention-deficit “children” had no interest in learning. I must say that I played the role of a flustered, poorly rested teacher expertly, though. It was like I wasn’t even acting.

Soon the simulation was over. If the Year 2 students weren’t able to truly experience American poverty, they at least got a sense of the stresses and struggles their members of modest means face day in and day out. However, unlike the simulation, there is no break from the working poor’s endless obligations, let alone free time to reflect upon the root causes of their dire circumstances.

Hopefully this experience will be a continual touchstone for Year 2 students to draw upon the next time a member of modest means needs their financial guidance. After attending, I know these credit union professionals will have an empathetic ear and the experiential wisdom needed to lead their members on a path to financial independence, making the American Dream a reality for all credit union members.

Greg is a Marketing Copywriter for the Credit Union National Association.


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