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:
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).