Using a Simulation to Understand the Difficulties of Living in Poverty


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The discussion of inequality in the classroom is not always an easy task. While the reasons for this are variable, one dominant reason is because many of our students believe that if you work hard enough, you will succeed. Students are more likely to blame the individual for personal failures, while ignoring structural issues that inhibit success. Even though there is an abundance of empirical evidence that illustrates the relationship between institutional arrangements and individual success, in my experience, students either ignore the evidence, or cite personal/family experiences, as valid reasons for their belief in the American Dream. Because of this, simulations are a useful resource in explaining social inequities. This activity, which can be found at, does an excellent job of illustrating the difficulties of low wage labor and poverty. At the activity’s onset, students are tasked with choosing between three jobs—a warehouse worker, an office temp, or a restaurant server. After students choose their job, students have to make it through the month without going broke. They have to make difficult decisions concerning health insurance, housing, paying a collection agency, having their kids participate in activities, among other scenarios. The simulation gives students a more in-depth understanding of the obstacles that low-income families face.


Resource Type(s):
Bobby Jo Otto 
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Usage Notes:

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WEBSITE: TIME (simulation conducted outside of class): Varies whether or not someone makes it through the month without going broke; however, the average time to complete the simulation is roughly 20-25 minutes. ASSIGNMENT: Two to three page response paper answering questions about the simulation, while applying different theoretical frameworks...

Learning Goals and Assessments:

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Goal 1:
Students will learn about the difficulties associated with low wage work and poverty.
Assessment 1:
In their response paper and during class discussion, students will have to answer questions about their experiences during the simulation.
Goal 2:
Students will understand the relationship between structure and agency.
Assessment 2:
In their response paper, students must address how one’s “choice” of low wage labor may be influenced by structural issues outside of their control.
Goal 3:
Students will understand the main theoretical paradigms explaining poverty.
Assessment 3:
In their response paper, students must use different theories explaining the existence of poverty/inequality.

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Trails activity - Using a simulation to understand the difficulties of living in poverty.docx