A Look Inside: Working Families

Learnings From Our Most Recent Community Assessment

Yoselin watched her father get shot when she was just two years old. Her mother worked hard to support their family, but things weren’t always easy, especially for Yoselin.

For some time, she struggled in school and acted out. She even ran away from home. Her mother called it her “rebellious phase.” But with help from the D2 Center, a United Way of the Midlands donor-funded program, things quickly turned around for Yoselin. She was assigned a Youth Academic Navigator through the Center – someone to check in with her and ensure she was making progress and earning credits in school. Yoselin’s entire lookout on life changed, and she became determined to succeed. She even graduated early and moved into the workforce.

Now, as she prepares to start college and aims to enter the National Guard, she spends the majority of her time working to support her family and her dreams. During a conversation with one of our staff members, she even said she was looking to work another job. Her most important motivator? Making her mom proud.


“I want to be there for her (my mom), which I am. Because my older brothers already have their families, so I’m the only one that can actually be there for her and help her out because she doesn’t even know English,” she said. “So I help a lot. I always give her money, too. Like, if I see that we don’t have anything at home, I’ll just give her the money so she can get it, so she can buy the stuff that she needs.”

Yoselin’s determination to work hard and improve her family’s circumstances isn’t an anomaly. This past summer, United Way of the Midlands spoke to individuals who are benefiting from local nonprofit programs during its Community Needs Assessment. Through these interviews, we drew some important conclusions about the struggles local families face and the work they are doing to provide for themselves and their families.

More About Our Community Needs Assessment

As United Way of the Midlands works toward our goals, we remain as committed as ever to maximizing the impact of your dollars. We want to ensure they are funding programs that address the most pressing needs in our community – and the needs that are going unseen or unmet.

Because it’s been five years since our last inventory of community needs, we knew it was time to reaffirm our understanding of the issues affecting people in the metro. With funding from Mutual of Omaha and the Omaha Community Foundation, we conducted a mixed methods study that identified community priorities and ultimately validated our areas of investment. The study consisted of a structured review of more than 90 articles and studies, a sophisticated analysis of census data, data collection among community programs and more than 50 hours of interviews.


How do we determine if a family is living in poverty?

Poverty is defined in terms of income (as determined by the U.S. census). A family of four with a total income of less than $25,000 is considered living in poverty. If this family earns less than $12,500, they are considered to be living in “deep” poverty.

Based on 14 different studies on income, we estimated that the following number of people live in deep poverty, poverty or are financially unstable in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro:

What struggles do these families face?

Families and individuals who are living in poverty face significant challenges meeting their basic needs.

  • 70% pay more than 30% of their income on rent.
  • Most identify health, housing and transportation as significant challenges, according to local studies, census data and interviews.
  • 25% lack a high school diploma.
  • More than 30% say they have no one to turn to or have been diagnosed with a depressive disorder.

It’s important to note that these challenges are often interconnected for families that experience financial instability. Most of the families we interviewed shared 11 different factors affecting their stability. For example, individuals told us about addiction and anxiety, which made getting to work challenging. They told us about trauma and abuse, which affected their ability to be productive at work or school. They told us about their desire to earn a promotion or improve their job prospects through education, so they could pay rent on time. Yoselin, for instance, told us about how trauma early in her life affected her behavior and education. The traumas of poverty intersect, making barriers higher, and often multi-generational.

Are there working families who are still living in poverty?

The challenges that people in poverty face often make it difficult for them to find and maintain employment, such as poor living and health conditions, mental health challenges, difficulties arranging transportation and food insecurity. Despite this, many individuals living in poverty are employed. In fact, more than 60% of families include someone who worked part time, part year or full time in the past year.

During our community assessment, we talked to clients with incomes across the poverty spectrum. Of the nine adults in our study, six of them worked, two had health conditions that prevented them from working and one was applying for jobs at the time of the interview.

What about families* who earn more than $25,000 a year?

The $25,000 poverty line isn’t a good indicator of whether a family is financially stable and often limits our understanding of who in our community is struggling. Individuals and families earning over twice the poverty level still struggle to make ends meet, as evidenced by the percentages below:

  • Almost 25% pay more than 30% of their income on rent.
  • 30% work hours outside the traditional 9-5 schedule, making it difficult for them to arrange transportation for their children, help their kids with homework, etc.
  • About 10% lack health insurance coverage.

As part of our community assessment, we examined 14 different studies that looked at the income a family of four needed to pay for stable housing, food, transportation and childcare. Every single report but one put this income at above the poverty line. That’s one reason why we estimate the number of individuals who experience financial instability based on the number of individuals making around 250% of the poverty level or less.

*a family of four

How does United Way and its donors help hardworking families like Yoselin’s?

More than 90% of individuals and families served by UWM programs earn low or moderate incomes. United Way donor-funded programs assist hardworking families by providing them with the tools and resources they need to obtain basic needs supports, overcome barriers, access opportunity, increase their income and improve their overall financial stability.

If you’re in need of counseling, food pantries, utility assistance or another human service, our 2-1-1 Helpline is here for you. Simply call 2-1-1 or text your zip code to 898211 to find local programs that will help you address challenges by providing basic needs, education and financial supports.

About the Author

Brayton is the Manager of Communications at United Way of the Midlands. She spends most of her days writing press releases, letters, brochures and more, but she wouldn’t have it any other way! She loves to travel and is always daydreaming about her next adventure. When she’s at home, you’ll most likely find her hanging out with her family and friends, eating chocolate or reading a good book.


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