RUSTON, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — A simulation workshop at Louisiana Tech is showing students firsthand the hardships associated with facing poverty. It’s an opportunity for these social services and healthcare majors to better understand the people they will be helping post-graduation. It’s a problem many face but rarely talk about.

“I am married and I have two children,” one Louisiana Tech faculty member testified, “I can honestly tell you, this poverty situation, sometimes is real life for me.”

Louisiana has the second-highest poverty rate in the U.S., with 19% of the population living below the poverty line.

“I would venture to guess that a good number of us who grew up in poverty, who are currently living a very low income, and so there are going to be some pieces of this next hour that are going to remind you of things that have happened in the past,” said Pam Jacobsen of East Texas Human Needs Network.

Louisiana Tech is in Lincoln Parish, with a population of 48,396. 10,502 residents (21.7%) live in poverty. Meanwhile, Caddo Parish has 237,848 citizens and 49,710 (20.9%) of our neighbors live in poverty.

“For our emerging professionals who will be working in service industries and healthcare industries, it’s really important for them to understand the many layers that poverty impacts and can help them to be more understanding and a more effective professional,” said Julie Rutledge, Human Development and Family Science professor.

Students were grouped into families, each with their own struggles like unemployment, working multiple jobs, having a disabled member of the family, and more. All of these groups were set on a strict budget, still having to make ends meet, regardless of their situation. It was a way to show that not everyone in a community has the same living experience.

“It’s insane to think about the things that people have to do to provide for their family. Just to make it because they have no other option,” said Bethany Ates, senior at Louisiana Tech. “So it was very eye-opening.”

There was a resounding agreement from students about how this simulation will make a lasting impact on their future careers serving others.

“For the students, it’s opening their eyes to what’s actually happening in their community that they may not know about, and maybe a way they can play a role in the future,” Rutledge said.