Pro Action is an anti-poverty agency. It is part of our mission to improve the general public’s understanding of the experience of poverty, its causes and its effects. Many of us who have not lived in poverty may not realize that, for people without enough resources to meet their basic needs, every day is a fight for survival. Every day. A fight for survival.
Two common misunderstandings are (1) to believe that the people experiencing poverty brought it on themselves, and (2) to believe that they alone can escape it using will power and hard work. Neither of these beliefs is correct. Poverty can be caused by ineffective education, lack of job opportunity, discrimination and other barriers to working such as a limited world view, illness or disability. None of these are causes that people create for themselves. And people experiencing poverty can’t necessarily overcome its grip through sheer effort. While people living in poverty are as capable, resourceful and resilient as we imagine them to be, we should remember that these qualities are occupied in a daily fight for survival.
It is part of our mission at Pro Action to help people meet their basic needs so they can turn their skills and abilities to the work of getting ahead. It is equally important that we build a better understanding of the experience of poverty so that others will want to help, too.
Pro Action’s key activity for improving understanding of poverty is the poverty simulations that we lead for area school districts, community groups and employers. During these simulations, participants are given a sample experience of the everyday challenges faced by people in poverty. They learn first-hand the hard choices that must be made to pay bills and buy needed items when there isn’t enough money to pay for everything. They get a lesson in accessing systems of help, and the work involved in balancing earned income with benefits such as HEAP, SNAP and child care subsidy. Throughout the simulations, the demands of job, family and school enter the picture to create a complete experience of the stress and pressure that come along with a scarcity of resources.
In 2015, Pro Action held 17 Poverty Simulations with a total of 1,563 participants.