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March 2021: Reader reporter Alex Preston writes a feature on two unicameral bills to raise workers’ wages, one of which seeks to boost Nebraska’s $9-an-hour minimum wage to $20 by 2032.  

December 2021: I publish a story on a nonprofit’s ballot-initiative campaign to increase Nebraska’s $9 minimum wage to $15 by 2026.

Nearly a year passed between the stories — and in the intervening months, activists’ resolve to fight for living wages didn’t waver. That tenacious spirit characterizes everyone I’ve interviewed for Omaha Jobs, The Reader’s monthly column on employment equity, from disability rights activists to single moms struggling to make ends meet. Here’s a look back at 2021 in Omaha Jobs.

January — June

Before I began my Omaha Jobs tenure, Karlha Velásquez Rivas published an article advising Omaha’s Hispanic community on securing well-paid employment. Chris Bowling followed it up with a piece on how unemployment (remember that?) disproportionately affects women and community members who are Black, Native American, Native Alaskan and Pacific Islander. When Alex Preston took the helm in March, he wrote a series of topical stories covering Biden’s Build Back Better plan, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act supporting unionization (prescient, considering Kellogg’s workers’ fight), and how long hours, low wages and no health insurance push local restaurant workers out of the industry.

July — August

I kicked off my Omaha Jobs tenure in July with a profile of Eureka! – a program guiding girls from underserved communities toward STEM careers. In August, I talked to Michael Richard Warner, a young activist with cerebral palsy, who’s wary of working because of the state’s convoluted insurance-benefit system for people with disabilities. The story was referenced in Disability Rights Nebraska’s testimony on behalf of Legislative Resolution 139, which promotes employment equity in Nebraska.

September — November

My September interview with Flor Campos — a single mom of five who founded a 24-hour day care so parents working in the wee hours of the morning didn’t have to leave their kids home alone — made me wonder how the state supports low-income families. I started a series on the experiences of low-income, working families and chatted with Catherine Brauer about how she worked nearly 85 hours a week and secured late-night child care for her three girls. Help for working parents exists, said Campos and Brauer, who started a business supporting low-income female entrepreneurs — but many families don’t know where to find assistance. So, come November, I created a resource guide for low-income families, including a breakdown of child care subsidies. 

December and beyond 

With the lowest unemployment rate in U.S. history, Nebraska’s labor market took over the December issue. The Reader’s core reporting team dived deep into strenuous working conditions, barriers to employment for immigrants (even in a tight labor market), unionization and, for the Jobs column, the push for a higher minimum wage in Nebraska, coming full circle from Alex’s March story. Whatever 2022 brings, The Reader will continue telling stories about community members committed to advocating for the rights of working Omahans and their families.

To read the stories in this retrospective:

JANUARY

Climbing the career ladder for a brighter future

FEBRUARY

Minorities and Women Continue Bearing Brunt of Unemployment

MARCH

Two Bills in Unicameral Aim to Increase Minimum Wage for Workers Across Nebraska

APRIL

PRO Act Passed by House

MAY

Biden Administration Proposes ‘American Jobs Plan’

JUNE

Workers, Industry Experts Say Restaurants Need to Change to Solve Labor Shortage

JULY

Breaking Down STEM Barriers for Girls

AUGUST

Get Hired, Lose Insurance Benefits?

SEPTEMBER

When Low-Income Parents Work Long Hours, Where Do Their Kids Go?

OCTOBER

Falling Through the Cracks

NOVEMBER

A Resource Guide for Low-Income Families

DECEMBER

New Petition Drive Fights for a Living Wage in Nebraska

From Nov. 2020 – Aug. 2022, Leah reported on social justice, including employment equity, economic justice, educational inequality, and the experiences and history of Nebraska’s LGBTQ+ community. Although she’s now pursuing a PhD in Communication, Information and Media at Rutgers University, Leah remains a diehard Reader fan and wholeheartedly supports all things Reader. You can connect with her via Twitter (@cates_leah).


Subscribe to The Reader Newsletter

Our awesome email newsletter briefing tells you everything you need to know about what’s going on in Omaha. Delivered to your inbox every day at 11:00am.

Become a Supporting Member

Subscribe to thereader.com and become a supporting member to keep locally owned news alive. We need to pay writers, so you can read even more. We won’t waste your time, our news will focus, as it always has, on the stories other media miss and a cultural community — from arts to foods to local independent business — that defines us. Please support your locally-owned news media by becoming a member today.

Leah Cates

From Nov. 2020 - Aug. 2022, Leah reported on social justice, including employment equity, economic justice, educational inequality, and the experiences and history of Nebraska's LGBTQ+ community. She originally...

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