Catholic News Service

MINNEAPOLIS—Being part of Minnesota's working poor is not a game—but a new interactive game simulation helps players understand the daily struggles faced by the poor.

The game, developed by Congregations in Community, which is part of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, is called “Face the Facts: Understanding Urban Poverty.”

Vicki Wunsch, Congregation in Community program coordinator, facilitated a recent game simulation whose players were University of St. Thomas students.

The students had to figure out how a family of five could make it through a month in Minneapolis living on a limited income. The father worked full time and the mother worked three-quarter time.

The after-tax pay, and the only income, for this mythical family, turned out to be $2,100 per month.

The game destroys preconceived myths about poverty, and points out some startling realities, Wunsch said, including the following:

• The largest growing number of homeless in Minnesota is children.

• Historically, Churches have tried to help the poor, but many Churches are finding that their resources are all used up.

• When you are poor you pay more for commodities. Inner-city residents in both Minneapolis and St. Paul often must rely on convenience stores, where bread and milk cost more than in suburban supermarkets.

• Minnesota has a very low unemployment rate—less than 2%—but that is only part of the picture. There are many low-wage jobs and there is a lack of affordable housing.

• Welfare-to-work laws provide the motivation to get people working—but child care expenses eat up paychecks and destroy that motivation.

In the game, Wunsch played the role of a social worker. Her job was to help game players by answering questions about housing, child care, transportation, health care, job opportunities, and living expenses.

But as game players soon found, Wunsch answered only those questions that were asked. Just as a real-life social services employee would, she did not supply information that was not specifically requested.

Participant Mary Van Heel found this out when her family elected not to purchase health insurance and complained at the game's completion that she worried about the children not being insured.

During the game she had talked to “social worker” Wunsch, but Wunsch had not told her about Minnesota Care, a program that insures all children in a family for $105 per month.

People who qualify do not necessarily know about Minnesota Care, Wunsch said. But in order to get the insurance they have to go to a state social services department and specifically ask for Minnesota Care, she said.

Participant Mavis Gomez said that after playing the game she realized that the most frustrating problems for the working poor center on health and child care.

“There's always something that comes up,” she said. “We managed to get by, but the father worked 12 hours a day.”

Write by Terry Kolb