Monday, February 10, 2014

Feeling Spent

Last year I wrote about the online poverty-simulation game called Spent--yes, you read that correctly--that offers players this challenge: You're a single parent who's just lost your home and job, and you're down to your last $1,000. Now choose wisely enough among your limited options so that you won't end up homeless. It was developed by Urban Ministries of Durham, which maintains a homeless shelter, and the North Carolina-based ad agency McKinney. More than 2 million have played it since its launch in 2011, and the only way I've ever "won" is by forgoing health insurance and "extras" like fresh food. At least the Affordable Care Act is supposed to help with one of those issues.

But with 4.8 million American earning only minimum wage, there's a perilous number of people who can't possibly stay afloat--let alone "win"-- in this economy. The New York Times has teamed up with Pro Publica to show exactly how the deck is stacked against minimum wage earners by creating a state-specific interactive feature where you, as a single, childless worker, enter the amounts you spend on everything from housing to taxes. Then it shows you how many more hours a week you'll need to work--or how much you'll have to go into debt--in order to make ends meet. 

The site notes with some understatement that  "you may find that even your rock-bottom expenses aren’t met and that you have to work more hours, pay your bills late, borrow money or do without."

To millions of Americans, that's no game. --Barbara Bedway


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