“Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert,” provides a deeply personal, unvarnished look at the life of a working, single mother of three. The documentary, released in conjunction with The Shriver Report, shows Katrina working hard—full time, overtime, and even holidays—but even with the support of programs designed to assist her, she struggles to get ahead and provide a better life for her and her family.
Katrina Gilbert is one of 42 million women living in poverty or on the brink of it, trying to be a strong foundation and provider for her family while working in a low-wage position as a nurse’s assistant.
The conversations around how to strengthen families often focuses on personal responsibility or government assistance, which ignores the opportunities that employers have to strengthen American families. Employers, including nonprofits, rely on a front-line low-wage staff to support and serve their clients and customers. They’re hard-working and dedicated, just like Katrina, with dreams and aspirations for themselves and their families. Increasing the emotional, physical and financial well-being of employees, both in and outside of the workplace, is the key to unlocking their full-potential as workers.
Bridging the Gap, a demonstration project of the National Human Services Assembly, assisted a small group of nonprofit sector employers in screening and enrolling front-line human services workers in work supports through their HR function. The demonstration found that employers were an effective channel to connect their low-income workers with the supports they needed. 86% of workers screened through Bridging the Gap (BTG) were eligible for one or more new work supports, and 26% successfully enrolled in one or more new work supports through the program. The BTG external evaluation found that receiving work supports not only improved employees’ personal and family situations, but also provided employers with a return on investment by reducing absenteeism and turnover while increasing productivity and engagement.
NHSA’s 2014 National Collaboration for Families Convening discussed different employer-based services and strategies to help address the needs of low-paid staff, and how these practices can positively impact business metrics, for both employees and employers. Goodwill Industries provides their agencies with a variety of tools and strategies to assist both their employees and those they serve in becoming more financially stable, and Catholic Charities USA is utilizing the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s Your Money, Your Goals financial empowerment toolkit to better educate their case management staff.
These employer-based strategies to strengthen the financial stability of families successfully improve the lives of front-line workers, and if widely implemented, could vastly improve the lives of Katrina and millions of women like her. When there’s a proven opportunity to increase the outcomes from the efforts of low-wage workers to provide a better life for their families, it should be a national priority to put those ladder rungs in place for every worker.