The suburban region projects an image of success and wealth in gleaming office buildings, bustling malls, and manicured housing estates.
But below the surface are the poor who are struggling to make ends meet. Some are seen at intersections asking for help; most are largely invisible. Poverty is the quiet little secret of the suburbs.
The Round Lake Area Unit District 116 leaders recently hosted an event designed to help all of us understand the realities of crushing poverty and inspire action by decision makers and community leaders.
Organizers of the hour-long community action poverty simulation program in the gymnasium of John T. Magee Middle School said the event caused tears and frustration among attendees who did not know. that the situation was so serious for some of their neighbors.
By opening some eyes, it also lays the foundations for new community initiatives. It starts by alerting commuters to the depth of the problem and the reasons behind it. We commend District 116 officials for taking this step and hope that others – Harper College hosted a CAPS program in 2018 – will welcome similar efforts.
“No one is teaching anyone how to live in poverty,” District 116 councilor Amy Taucher told our Trey Arline. “We have students and parents who are really going through this right now. They (the program participants) have been going through this for an hour. Imagine living like this every day.”
At Magee Middle School, more than 100 participants described low-income families and social service workers in contact with them. Some had unique circumstances, such as those with a college education and working for minimum wage, multigenerational families, or single parents.
The “families” were tasked with providing basic necessities – food, mortgage, utilities – on a limited budget via fictitious money during the four 10-15 minute “weeks”. They interacted with social service agencies, grocers, pawn shops, debt collectors, stockbrokers, job interviewers, and police officers.
They faced obstacles such as emergency payments, traffic and health issues that could take money away from participants.
About a third of the simulation participants were kicked out or public services were shut down. Half forgot to have enough food for the week.
Welcome to reality for many residents whose suburban dream is to break the cycle of financial struggle. It’s time we all learned more about the depth of suburban poverty, faced the problem and looked for ways to help.