Megan Branham, Children’s Trust director of policy, recently took part in the Interactive Poverty Simulation hosted by SC Thrive. Through this training exercise, she gained a better understanding of how living at the poverty level can make navigating day-to-day life far more difficult for families in South Carolina. She details her experience here.

I never thought I’d wake up one day and suddenly be a middle-aged man supporting a wife, teenage daughter, and father-in-law with health issues.

Megan Branham

Megan Branham

But that’s what happened when I participated in an Interactive Poverty Simulation training hosted by SC Thrive, an organization that works to lead this state’s residents to stability by providing innovative and efficient access to quality-of-life resources.

The author Alice Hoffman said, “Once you know some things, you can’t unknow them. It’s a burden that can never be given away.”  I am so grateful for this experience as I came away with a newfound passion and determination to find ways to address systemic issues that keep families struggling from making ends meet.

Through a series of scenarios and activities, the simulation demonstrates the day-to-day challenges of those living in poverty. In South Carolina, 20 percent of people live in poverty, a figure that includes nearly 300,000 children. The poverty simulation is an eye-opening, realistic experience that illustrates just how difficult it is for impoverished families to navigate community systems, meet family needs, and handle unexpected major life events.

During the training, more than 50 professionals in the room, many of them who work directly with families experiencing these challenges firsthand, felt nervous excitement as we anxiously awaited our family assignments and instructions. As we opened our information packets, it became clear that it was going to be an uphill battle to complete our time-limited tasks.

The scenario began, and off I went to a full-time job – something that many in the room did not have. I left my wife at home to oversee paying bills, getting our daughter to school, and caring for my elderly father-in-law.

Time flew by in a blur. The routine was the same: Wake up, go to work, come home, repeat. I had almost no free time to socialize with friends or family, and for the most part, I was unaware of what was going on at home. I had no idea if the bills were getting paid on time or whether my father-in-law was having trouble paying for his prescriptions.

At one point in the scenario, I had to decide between waiting in line to cash my paycheck or pick up my sick daughter from school while my wife was at the doctor with my father-in-law. I knew the bank was about to close for the weekend, and if I went to the bank on Monday, I would be late for work, which would undoubtedly have gotten me fired. With extreme guilt, I made the decision to leave my sick daughter at school.

I watched neighbors around me get evicted from their homes, be forced to take their children to work with them because they could not afford child care, pawn microwaves and cameras so they could afford transportation to work, and get ripped off by untrustworthy businesses.

However, in long lines waiting to buy groceries or pick up my paycheck, I heard co-workers and neighbors share supports they received from a local non-profit, with one saying, “They paid my electricity bill!” I also heard stories of resilience: “My sister is babysitting my kids so I can work part-time.”

Poverty Simulation

Child-serving professionals gather for SC Thrive’s poverty simulation.

At the end of the training, I was mentally and physically drained. I felt overwhelmed, frustrated, and exhausted, despite the fact that my family finished with everyone home and healthy with all bills paid and money in the bank.

How would things change for the better in our state if we all carried the burden of knowing how many families live day-to-day? What if we implemented policies that promote tax credits for working families? What if we supported community programs that fill the gaps needed to improve economic, health, education and overall well-being of South Carolinians at or below poverty?

Children’s Trust recently published a report that examines poverty’s impact for children and families in South Carolina. It specifically addresses recommendations to improve economic stability, access to quality child care, and overall health and well-being.

I challenge all policy makers, business leaders, and others who care about the future of South Carolina to read this report, participate in this training, and seek solutions with us.

To learn more about SC Thrive and the Interactive Poverty Simulation, visit their website: