Penn State Students Get Lesson in Poverty

An estimated 46 million Americans spend every day living in poverty. And to get a glimpse of what it must be like, some students from the Penn State-Shenango campus went through a poverty simulation.

Participants said the experience was not what they were expecting. First, the students were separated into “families.” Each family was given a certain amount of money and time to complete tasks like visiting social services, finding work, and getting money from the bank. The simulation was divided into four “weeks,” or four fifteen minute segments.

“I want them to be able to truly be able to open their eyes and understand and have that empathy to these people that are actually going through that,” said Summer Knapp with Community Food Warehouse.

Thirty percent of households in Mercer County are living below self-sufficiency, almost half of those in poverty. Many students participating in the poverty exercise will eventually be working with clients going through similar situations.

“Looking at it from this angle, it is a little bit different. And how many things you actually have to worry about,” said student Kayla Houck. “It’s really real life. I never really realized how intense this was, what they were going to expect out of us. I didn’t really know coming into it.”

Students from different education backgrounds participated; all assigned a different way to be graded on their experience. Many of them say they were surprised at how realistic it was.

“I think it gives you a real perspective on what Americans are going through every single day, and it kind of makes you want to be a little bit more proactive in figuring out how to fix the problem,” said student Kelly Young.

The Community Action Partnership of Mercer County co-sponsored the simulation with the Community Food Warehouse.

Ron Errett with Community Action Partnership said he and other sponsors would like to conduct the exercise several times a year for as many different audiences as they can.

“People who are in poverty aren’t “them” or “those” people. They’re us. They just happen to have less money,” said Errett.

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