Inside the Foundation  
FOCUS Summit Attendees Learn what it's Like to be a Low-Income Family
Friday, February 7, 2014 8:00 AM

Life SimulationImagine not having enough money to feed your family, or losing your job because you don’t have reliable transportation to get you there on time…These are the daily struggles for millions of U.S. families. And yesterday, FOCUS Summit attendees experienced these struggles and more in a simulated environment.

Lois Kitsch, REAL Solutions national program manager for the National Credit Union Foundation, facilitated the Life Simulation, in which the participants assumed the role of a family living in poverty. Some families had aging parents they were caring for and others had infants. Some families were single parent households, and others were dealing with job loss, illness, etc.   The “families” were given a certain amount of money to live on during the simulated month. In many cases, an unexpected emergency left the families unable to buy food, and so they had to visit social services. In other cases, they had to bail a family member out of jail, and as a result, fell short of meeting their money obligations. Even cashing a paycheck proved challenging for many of these families. 

According to Kitsch, the simulation is designed to make us more aware and empathetic to the challenges low-income families face every single day. One participant in yesterday’s simulation said the experience made him question how many of the employees within his organization are struggling month-to-month. Another participant who had the role of a 21 year-old caring for his younger siblings said it was difficult seeing his “younger siblings” having to take on more adult roles instead of getting to just be a kid. And yet another participant who has a 15-year son in real life, and played the role of a store clerk in the simulation, commented on how sad it was to have a 13-year old come into the store to buy groceries for the family. A participant who played a recent college graduate expressed how disheartening it was to feel invisible.  

Life Simulation 2Kitsch challenged the participants to take this experience to heart, and be more aware going forward.

“Be more observant. Know what is happening around you. People are facing issues such as these every single day,” Kitsch said. “You could be the one they turn to for help.”

So what can credit unions do? Kitsch says there is a lot credit unions can do. They could provide car loans for credit challenged members.

“We all need reliable transportation, and extending credit to your C and D paper members is good business if you price them appropriately for the risk,” suggests Kitsch.

Credit unions can also offer check cashing services and short-term loans. She cited on credit union that created a short-term loan product that featured a savings component. She also encouraged credit unions to establish community partnerships and offer financial education.