What is the Real Cost of Poverty?

Poverty statistics are mind-numbing. According to TalkPoverty.org, nationally 46 million Americans live below the poverty line – $24,860 for a family of four – in 2018, with Florida ranking as the 18th state with the highest poverty rates.

For someone who has never experienced poverty, it may be difficult to understand what life is like for a person who lives that reality. Through the sponsorship of the CareSource Foundation, Think Tank, Inc., a nonprofit designed to assist organizations working with communities to comprehensively address poverty, developed the Cost of Poverty Experience (COPE) offering an opportunity to gain a glimpse into the lives of families that face these struggles every day. 

The COPE program was developed to give participants an opportunity to move beyond stereotypes to a more holistic understanding of the causes and effects of poverty. COPE represents the lives of real families who live in poverty and have graciously shared their stories so that participants across the country can be exposed to real people, situations, and barriers that exist. Participants and volunteers are able to experience poverty firsthand through the eyes of these families.

Also captured in the experience is the role that the broader community plays in their interactions with low-income families. All CLSMF staff at the annual staff retreat participated in a poverty simulation. The unique experience COPE offered deepened our connection to the low-income families in our community. The training helped the staff further understand the complexities of poverty, encouraging us to find ways to address their needs more comprehensively.

In a COPE follow up survey response of CLSMF employees it was stated:

  • “The stress I felt after week 1 and heading into week 2 was real! Being able to ‘feel’ how our clients struggle daily helps me see how we can be a stepping stone to relieving at least some of their burden.”
  • “This experience empowers you to continue helping low-income individuals/communities and better understand their walk in life. It reminded me of why I do what I do and to always have emotional intelligence when dealing with clients.”
  • “It gave me a renewed love for my job, a reminder that we do make a difference in people’s lives, and a desire to work harder toward making an even bigger difference.”
  • “I have greater empathy for our clients after having this experience.”
  • “The experience reiterated just how important the work we do is, and how it is our jobs to make sure we are accessible to our clients.”