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September 27, 2011 - Kylie Saari
We have all heard about poverty in these hard economic times. Many of us have seen or read news about the "changing face of poverty" or the "working poor". Sometimes it is hard to keep reading this news because we hear it so often. But let's take a look locally.
One of the easiest ways to judge a city's level of poverty at a quick glance is by knowing the free/reduced lunch rate at the schools. Granted, those number only represent younger families and doesn't show how the elderly are getting a long, but it is eye-opening nonetheless.
To qualify for the free or reduced lunch program, a family needs to meet certain income guidelines: for a family of four, a household income of less than $41,348 per year is the limit. To qualify for free lunch, the income limit is $29,055.
This is the rate at which the government has concluded it is difficult for families to feed their children. In Fairmont, many of the students qualify for free breakfast as well.
The scary part is that the free/reduced lunch rate in Fairmont is 50 percent for elementary students. One out of every two students, or an average of 10-15 students per classroom can't afford to eat at home! The number is lower at the high school — around 30 percent — although it is unclear if that is because the families truly make more money or if students at that age don't take advantage of the program.
Another way to look at it is this. If you know someone who has kids, there is a very good chance they are not making ends meet.
For those who do make enough money — literally the other half — it is easy to point fingers and say "why don't they just ..."
To address how difficult it truly is to live at such as low wage, there is a website — www.playspent.com — that lets players choose a job and try to get through the month on that income. I thought it wouldn't be that hard, a computer can't really emulate real life right? But it was pretty realistic. You have to pass a typing test if you chose to work as a temp. in an office, and sometimes there isn't any work. If you choose a warehouse job, you need to seriously consider if health insurance is worth the money, because there could be injuries.
I lasted 19 days with my income "working" as a waitress on the website. I did better as an office temp. You really get an idea how desperate of a situation a person can get it. The site had me get into a fender bender with a parked car and I had to decide if I would identify myself and pay the damages or drive off. You are given the choice whether to hang up on collectors, allow your child to join a sports team with a fee, or go to work with a fever or risk losing your job by taking a day off.
It makes some of those decisions you hear about in the news and shake your head over make sense. I hope you all go over to the website and try it. And be kind to your neighbor — times are tough.
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