Humane Educators' Toolbox: Spent Challenges Our Assumptions About Poverty

With the weeks-long Occupy Wall Street and complementary actions around the country, much attention in the U.S. is focused on jobs and economic justice. Recent reports have revealed that more people than ever in the U.S. are living in poverty.

If you haven't been in a situation of severe economic struggle, it can be easy to make assumptions and judgments about people in poverty and challenging to understand all the complex factors and unexpected obstacles that determine whether or not you have enough to pay rent, feed your kids, and deal with emergencies.

The Urban Ministries of Durham has created a role-playing scenario called Spent, which challenges us to rethink our perceptions of homelessness and poverty. In the scenario, we are a single parent with no job and only $1,000 to get us through the month. Throughout the scenario, we have to find a job, a place to live, and buy groceries; make tough decisions about issues like whether or not to have health insurance or buy shoes for our kids; and deal with unexpected emergencies. The goal is to see whether or not we can make it through the month without spending all our money.

I've never lived in severe poverty, but I've definitely had to pinch pennies, nervously check my bank balance, and do without. As someone who embraces voluntary simplicity, I've also learned to manage my money wisely. But even with my experience and skills with frugality -- and the fact that I made "choices" in the scenario that would deeply trouble me, such as not paying a bill or driving my car without insurance or limiting opportunities for my child -- I only made it to day 25. Yes, the game is meant to be challenging to prove a point, but there are millions of people for whom such circumstances are no game but are a fact of daily life.

Spent is a useful tool for unpacking assumptions and sparking discussion about the complexity of a variety of important issues, such as poverty, homelessness, economic inequality, unemployment, job fairness, and ethical choices.

Play Spent yourself and see how far you can make it.

~ Marsha

(h/t to David at ESL, etc.)

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