In 2014, there were 46.7 million people in poverty. This is up from 37.3 million in 2007. The number of low-income people is near the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty statistics have been published.
Wow. It’s not just folks in poverty either scraping by. Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency, even those considered “middle-class.”
These are your members. People in your communities. Maybe friends or family even? Credit unions exist to improve the financial well-being of our members, so this is a big opportunity to be a trusted partner for those struggling to make ends meet.
The first step is understanding the issue, most importantly, your staff understanding the issue. This has been an important issue to us at the National Credit Union Foundation (the Foundation) for years, particularly through our REAL Solutions program. In fact, about five years ago, the Foundation started holding the first “Poverty Simulations” (now Life Simulations) for credit union staff across the country. The simulation is designed to help sensitize credit union organizations to the financial needs of low-wage working families.
The Life Simulation experience is designed to help credit union employees, volunteers and leadership begin to understand what it might be like to live in a typical low-income family trying to survive from month to month. You’ll have the experience and tools to develop products, services and resources to assist with the daily struggles that your members, neighbors, and friends may be facing each day.
Until recently, Foundation staff would conduct the simulation for credit union organizations, but now credit unions can also order a “new and improved” simulation kit from the Foundation. We recently made it available as a comprehensive kit that includes over 1,000 pieces of material. It has been created to include the most up-to-date scenarios, including complex family dynamics, current issues facing members such as pay day lenders and medical debt, as well as other everyday financial hardships that members may face.
Walking in another’s shoes is a far more effective way to sensitize others to the needs of immigrants and other low-wage working families than from traditional diversity or classroom learning. We’ve found that the Life Simulation is such an eye opening experience that will change the lives of your credit union staff, and ultimately the lives of your members.