Poverty Simulations

What is the purpose?

Across Broome County, 42% of households are experiencing economic hardship (link to ALICE report). The poverty simulation experience is designed to help participants better understand what it might be like to be a part of a typical low-income family in Broome County trying to survive from month to month. The object is to sensitize participants to the realities of life faced by those residents in our community who are experiencing economic hardship.

Who should participate?

  • Nonprofit and human service agencies staff including administrators and executive leaders
  • Members of the business community
  • School district staff, aides, and administrators
  • Higher education instructors and students
  • High school classes in need of extracurricular or service-learning credit
  • Any other groups who want to learn more about the lived experiences of people experiencing poverty in our community

How does it work?

A poverty simulation requires involvement of 50-80 participants

Roles to play:

  • Participants: This group assumes the role of an individual within a family who is living in poverty. They might belong to a family with two working parents, grandparents raising grandchildren, older siblings raising younger siblings, or an elderly person on their own. Families are charged with providing the basic necessities including food, shelter, and clothing during 4 - 15  minute weeks, representing one month. They do this by interacting with 17 agencies one might find in a community
  • Volunteers: Volunteers fill the roles of the service providers at each of the community agencies. They might represent a social worker from the Department of Social Services, a nonprofit human service agency staff person, a banker, or a mortgage collector.

Additional Information

United Way of Broome County Staff or a representative from the requesting organization will facilitate the simulation (2-3 staff members). The event takes approximately 3 hours – not less than 2.5 hours. “Families” must provide basic necessities and shelter for one “month” consisting of four, 15-minute weeks. It is important to remember. this is a simulation, not a game.

Planning Requirements

  • Cost: Free, but organizations hosting a poverty simulation should consider providing refreshments and/or a meal to participants as part of the event.
  • Interested organizations must contact the United Way at least 2 months in advance of requested simulation date
  • A coordinator or committee should be formed by the organization/business/school requesting the simulation to plan logistics with United Way staff
  • The requesting organization must arrange for a room/location with at  least 3,000 square feet, 25 tables, and enough chairs necessary to host a simulation
  • The requesting organization must provide 50-80 participants and 16-20 volunteers to run the simulation
  • Volunteers should be prepared to attend a pre-simulation orientation and arrive at least 30 minutes before the simulation to set up their station for the simulation
  • The requesting organization must schedule time following the simulation for kit reassembly – at least 4 hours. The kit must be completely reassembled and returned to the United Way the way it was received within one week of the simulation.


  • A 30 minute debrief discussion at the end of the simulation allows participants to share thoughts, lessons learned, and brainstorm ideas for lasting change.
  • The simulation increases the awareness of challenges that families with limited resources face daily.
  • The United Way encourages people to give, advocate, and volunteer to causes that will positively impact Broome County residents who are experiencing economic hardship.