If the unthinkable happened and you lost your job, could you make it? Could pull yourself up by your bootstraps, get a job, any job, and make ends meet? I'm optimistic that I could, and maybe you are, too. But it might be a little trickier than you think.Urban Ministries of Durham, North Carolina has a nifty little online game called Spent, where you take on the role of a newly unemployed worker with a rapidly dwindling savings account. The goal of the game is to make it through the month with cash left over, and it's not easy. You pick a job that typically might be available to anyone looking for work, and you navigate through a month of expenses, which range from deciding whether or not to opt in to health insurance to figuring out whether you can afford to pay the school for your child's field trip.Can you do it? Playing the game, I made it through the month, but barely. I had $157 left over, but I was driving a car without proper registration, I had no health insurance, and I had chronic tooth pain because I couldn't afford a simple trip to the dentist. And I only spent $80 on groceries for the entire month, so I either lost about 50 pounds last month, or the rest of my family starved. Either way, I don't know where the rent money for next month is coming from.The problem in our country is that being unemployed is no game. Even if you manage to land a low-wage job to "pay the bills" you're still left with incredibly difficult choices, and you can't hit the back button on your browser to change them. If the neighbor's kid breaks your window and you have to fix it, you have to decide whether you want glass in your window or a plastic sheet over the hole plus some food on the table. You have to decide whether or not your child gets to play sports because you don't know if you can spot the money for the uniform.The unemployment rate hovers around 9%, the unemployment plus underemployment rate is stuck at about 16%, and the conservatives in the House of Representatives are blocking the first real jobs bill to be proposed in years. Millions of people who were gainfully employed 3 or 4 years ago have through no fault of their own been stuck with no job or a job that hardly pays enough to get by, millions who are playing this game every month.
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