Racing the Clock: A Father’s Struggle to Provide
United Way fights for the education, health and financial stability of every person in Lucas, Wood and Ottawa counties.
Ken* tried to stay calm as he anxiously bounced his legs, sitting in his normal seat on the bus. It was 6:18 a.m., which was his usual drop-off time.
Yet today, the bus was running about 10 minutes late. Biting his lip, he watched each second on his wrist watch tick by. “How fast will I need to run to punch in by 6:30?” he thought.
It was 6:28 when the bus finally came to a halt, and in no time, Ken was out of his seat, running towards the factory’s front doors. With every stride, he did nothing but wish for his own car. Sharing a vehicle with his wife was tough, but there was no way they could afford the extra gas or insurance of a second vehicle.
Flying down the hall, he saw the punch-in clock just a few feet in front of him. But, by time he extended his hand to enter his three digit code, the clock read 6:31 a.m.
His heart sank in frustration, because for every minute late, the clock tacked on an extra 10—resulting in a smaller paycheck.
“That’s about three dollars I just lost,” he mumbled to no one in particular. Three dollars is the little extra money Ken gave to his daughter for lunch; three dollars is the parking money his wife needed for work; three dollars is enough for a few extra cans of vegetables at the store… The list in his mind went on and on.
Three dollars is significant to his family’s well-being, because Ken and his wife are part of a growing population, categorized as A.L.I.C.E., an acronym for: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Take note of that last word: employed.
According to Federal standards,** being in poverty means that a single individual, on average, makes less than $12,486 a year. For a household of two, the poverty line hits when income is less than $14,507 a year. A family of four would be considered in poverty when making less than $24,339 a year.
What these dollar amounts don’t account for, are those who straddle the poverty line or barely surpass its outlined definition. People like Ken, his wife and two daughters.
The $15-an-hour Ken makes working on the line and the $10-an-hour his wife makes as a daycare assistant just isn’t enough to get by in a family of four.
Eight and a half hours later, Ken’s work day concluded. He clocked out and again raced against time to catch the three o’clock bus. He needed to get to his daughter’s school for a parent information meeting on college scholarships.
He and his wife were determined to do everything possible to provide their oldest daughter with a college opportunity. With no savings, they reluctantly decided to withdraw money from Ken’s retirement fund to help with next year’s first semester books and tuition payments.
Making sure his daughter’s have the best chance at life is Ken’s number one priority. In fact, Ken takes any extra shift possible, sometimes working up to 60 hours a week, to bring in additional money to support their education. His wife’s employer only allows her to work a maximum of 40 hours.
Trying to put his day behind him, Ken steps onto the bus and glances at his watch. The reality is, they’re just one accident on the job or one missed bill payment away from a downward financial spiral.
“One day at a time,” he says under his breath. That’s all he can really focus on. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll beat the clock and the odds…
CHANGE MAKER ACTION: Last year, through the generosity of our donors, United Way of Greater Toledo provided over $500,000 for financial stability programming and $1.2 million in basic need funding for families living paycheck to paycheck. It’s up to us to continue advocating for those who can’t afford their basic needs, even though they hold full-time employment. By donating below, you can join us in the fight to end poverty and create more financially stable homes in our community
*This blog post is based on the Ohio United Way ALICE report, which can be found via ouw.org/alice. The identities of those represented in this article/story details have been added to provide a more accurate picture of the individual’s personal struggles and successes
**Based on a study conducted by the University of California, Davis – Center for Poverty Research, in conjunction with the United States Census Bureau.
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