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Poverty Simulation Activity Guide: Overview

This guide will provide additional resources for students participating in the poverty simulation.

Poverty Simulation Coordinators

LibGuide Administrator

More Information about the Community Action Poverty Simulation Kit

To purchase a Community Action Poverty Simulation kit,  visit // to begin the order process. They require payment and a signed license agreement before we ship the kit. If you have any questions, call the Missouri Community Action Network (Missouri CAN) at 573-634-2969 or email

Evan Melkersman, CAPS Project Manager
phone: 573-634-2969 ext. 26

Poverty Simulation


The Community Action Poverty Simulation experience is designed to help participants begin to
understand what it might be like to live in a typical low-income family trying to survive from month
to month. It is a simulation, not a game. The object is to sensitize participants to
the realities faced by low-income people.

In the simulation, up to 88 participants assume the roles of up to 26 different families
facing poverty. It is recommended that dolls be used for the 1-3 year old children, as
these roles do not actively participate in the simulation. (If you use dolls in these roles
the number of active participants is reduced to 80.)

Some families are newly unemployed, some are recently deserted by the
“breadwinner,” some are homeless, and others are recipients of TANF (Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families, formerly AFDC), either with or without additional earned
income. Still others are senior citizens receiving Disability or Retirement or
grandparents raising their grandchildren. The task of the “families” is to provide for
basic necessities and shelter during the course of four 15-minute “weeks.”

The simulation is conducted in a large room with the “families” seated in groups in the
center of the room. Around the perimeter are tables representing community resources
and services for the families. These services include a bank, super center, Community
Action Agency, employer, utility company, pawn broker, grocery, social service agency,
faith-based agency, payday and title loan facility, mortgage company, school,
community health center, and child care center.

Volunteers, preferably persons who have faced or are facing poverty, are recruited to
staff the resource tables. Volunteers are also recruited to assume the roles of police
officer and an “illegal activities” person.

The experience lasts from two and a half to three hours. It includes an introduction
and briefing, the actual simulation exercise, and a debriefing period in which
participants and volunteer staffers share their feelings and experiences and talk about
what they have learned about the lives of people in poverty.

Copyright 1987, 2003, 2007, 2011 Missouri Community Action Network (Missouri CAN)  REV. 03/16