Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Heeding the Call: A Program on Justicemaking for Junior High School Youth

Alternate Activity 2: When the Savings Run Out

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Cut apart the scenarios in Leader Resource 1, Family Scenarios.

Description of Activity

This activity is based on an activity from Teaching Economics as if People Mattered: A High School Curriculum Guide to The New Economy by Tamara Sober Giecek (Boston: United For a Fair Economy, 2000), used by permission.

In a 2003 study, it was demonstrated that if we lined up all white households by the amount of cash they had in savings and checking accounts, from those with the most to those with the least, half of white households would have more than 5,000 dollars, and half would have less. For African-American families, that halfway mark was only 100 dollars. Much of the discriminatory attitudes and prejudices of classism are based on the beliefs that the difference between savings of 5,000 dollars and 100 dollars is due to hard work and frugality. In other words, if you have less, it is your own fault.

Income disparities also exist between men and women: women working full time make about 77 cents to every dollar men make. Often women are paid less for doing the same job. In the past, employers justified this wage gap between the sexes by saying that men had to support a family and women did not. They also reasoned that it was not worth investing much in women because they would leave work when they married and had children. These beliefs were not legitimate then and are not now. However, women are still trying to catch up to men in pay equality.

One way to work for justice against these classist prejudices is to examine the root causes of inequality in society. It is important to remember that policies legally favored certain people (particularly white men) and disadvantaged others for the first two centuries of our country's history. Add to this years of discrimination in workplaces and schools; discrimination in the administration of government programs, such as the G.I. Bill of Rights (which was denied to African American WWII veterans); lack of equal educational opportunities; and disparities in inherited wealth, among other factors.

Ask youth to consider what would happen to their family if one or both of the wage earners lost his/her job. (Be aware that some youth are experiencing this now.) The key to true economic security for most families are their assets, particularly cash. Money stored in a savings account can tide a family over in an emergency such as an illness or layoff. Most financial planners suggest having six months' worth of income saved for such times. However, this is an impossible goal for many families. A long-term illness, house fire, or other catastrophe can quickly deplete all of a family's resources, pushing them into poverty. Consider the nearly 200,000 families affected by the layoffs in the auto industry in 2005 and 2006. Or the tens of thousands of people left stranded after Hurricane Katrina who had neither the transportation nor the money to leave the city before the hurricane arrived. Lacking decent incomes, cash savings, or substantial assets, many people are forced to work extra hours or take a second or even a third job just to survive.

Distribute the strips from Leader Resource 1, Family Scenarios, and ask participants to complete the Savings Cushion Formula to find out how long the family in their scenario could survive on savings if a wage earner lost their job.

Savings Cushion Formula:

Write down your cash savings.

Look at the information in the Monthly Poverty Level below and find the monthly poverty-level minimum for your family.

Divide your cash savings by the amount in the table. The result is the number of months that your family could live at the poverty level before your savings run out.

Monthly Poverty Level (information from Safety Web. org):

1 Person: 903 dollars monthly at Poverty Line

2 People: 1,214 dollars monthly income at Poverty Line

3 People: 1,526 dollars monthly income at Poverty Line

4 People: 1,838 dollars monthly income at Poverty Line

5 People: 2,149 dollars monthly income at Poverty Line

6 People: 2,461 dollars monthly income at Poverty Line

7 People: 2,773 dollars monthly income at Poverty Line

Ask participants to share with the group their family scenarios and how many months the family could survive on savings if the only wage earner lost their job. Also, discuss what options seem viable for the families to survive after savings are gone. Talk about agencies in your community that help families in need. Wrap up the activity by asking youth to share reflections on how they might feel if they were members of the families in the scenarios.