Editorial: The suburbs' quiet little secret of poverty

The suburban region projects an image of success and affluence in gleaming office buildings, busy shopping centers and manicured subdivisions.

But below the surface are the poor who struggle mightily to make ends meet. Some are seen at intersections asking for help; most are largely invisible. Poverty is the suburbs' quiet little secret.

Officials in Round Lake Area Unit District 116 recently staged an event designed to help all of us understand the realities of crushing poverty and inspire action from policymakers and community leaders.

Organizers of the hourlong Community Action Poverty Simulation program in the John T. Magee Middle School gym said the event resulted in some tears and frustration among the participants who were not aware the situation is so dire for some of their neighbors.

In opening some eyes, it also lays the groundwork for new community initiatives. It starts with alerting suburbanites about the depth of the problem and the reasons behind it. We commend District 116 officials for taking this step and hope others - Harper College held a CAPS program in 2018 - host similar efforts.

"Nobody teaches anyone how to live in poverty," District 116 counselor Amy Taucher told our Trey Arline. "We have students and parents really going through this right now. They (program participants) lived that for an hour. Imagine living like this every day."

At Magee Middle School, more than 100 participants portrayed low-income families and social service workers in contact with them. Some had unique circumstances, such as college educated people working minimum wage jobs, multigenerational families, or single parents.

"Families" were tasked to provide basic necessities - food, mortgage, utilities - on a limited budget via play money during the four 10- to 15-minute "weeks." They interacted with human service agencies, grocers, pawnbrokers, bill collectors, currency exchange workers, job interviewers and police officers.

They faced obstacles such as emergency payments, traffic and health complications that could take money away from participants.

Roughly a third of those in the simulation were evicted or had utilities shut off. Half forgot to get enough food to last the week.

Welcome to reality for many residents whose suburban dream is to break the cycle of financial struggle. It's time we all learn more about the depth of suburban poverty, face the problem and seek ways to help.

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