The $100 Research Project

Social work is rooted in research, as any social work undergrad would tell you as they groan over yet another IRB revision. Once you’re out of school and off to the world of writing biopsychosocials, you’re all done with research projects and statistics right? Not hardly.

I must have missed doing research (my undergrad professor would love to hear this, right Dr. S.?) because one morning in the shower I had the idea to do a research project and incorporate it into a presentation I was asked to give about poverty and food scarcity in my area. My simple research question was this-if I gave you $100 right now, what would you do with it?

I gathered my research in a few ways, but it boiled down to either conversation or through one social media post. Everyone I asked knew this was a project I was doing and that there were no wrong answers, I just wanted their gut instinct answer. What I found out was really no surprise at all. Out of 100 responses, 49 were from low-income persons and 51 from middle to upper income persons.

The responses in the middle to upper income group:

  • Credit card balances
  • Put it in savings
  • Invest it
  • Home Repairs

The responses in the low-income group:

  • Groceries
  • Utility Bill
  • Neccessity (i.e. shoes, paper products, medicines, baby supplies)
  • Entertainment (i.e. movies, restaurant meals)

You can automatically see the difference in how those in poverty spend vs. the way everyone else spends. In poverty your basic needs are often unmet, including things like new shoes for your children and having electricity. One person actually took a pen and paper and made a list of expensive groceries they would buy (things like wheat bread, real cheese that’s not in a cardboard box, and a whole bag of fresh apples) and another told me the entire balance of their electric bill and the proposed $100 wouldn’t really make a difference. Sidney Sheldon said it best in his book Rage of Angels, “being poor is only romantic in books…it’s smelly rooms with rats and cockroaches and bad food that you can never get enough of”.

And before we go much further, entertainment is something we take for granted. Many people I know say they didn’t feel like cooking so they ordered takeout, or that there was a movie they wanted to see/game they wanted to buy/insert other non-essential purchase here, and they just go and do it. Those in poverty don’t have this luxury, with the exception of income tax refund time (here  and here are some great articles about poverty and spending, strong language warning). There is no money for entertainment, or even as a way to escape the constant thoughts of how to buy food/medicine/make rent. So when there is a windfall of money, entertainment takes top priority.

Now you tell me, dear reader, what would you do with an extra $100?



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