The working poor: where do we go from here?

Sep 6, 2019

The issue of asset-limited, income-constrained, employed families doesn’t exist in a bubble. It affects the entire community. According to research done by the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, communities with a large population of working poor may experience higher taxes, housing instability and a decline in economic growth.


Buffalo Urban League President and CEO Brenda McDuffie says despite the large amount of families living just above the federal poverty level, they tend to slip through the cracks.

Credit storycorps.org

“There will always be people who are marginalized,” she said. “My prayer is that we as a people can help them get out…and help them see a way out.”

McDuffie knows there is always work to be done when it comes to issues surrounding the working poor.

“When they’re trying to work on a daily basis,” she said. “Put food on the table, keep a roof over their head and raise their children. That’s a lot.”

It’s challenging, but not impossible

McDuffie said it’s challenging, but not impossible. Even when the working poor folks are up against people who don’t quite understand the solutions needed are not simple.

“There’s a whole cadre of people who say they have to work harder, or they’re doing something wrong,” she said. “I just think we as a community have to step back and really take the time to talk to them and work with them on solutions.”

There is help for those who live above the poverty line, but still don’t earn enough to make ends meet. Unite Way CEO. Michael Weiner said one there is one resource which helps connect people to the services they need.

“Do you know what 211 is? If you and I dialed 211 right now they run a 24/7 information and referral call center. That call center has data on over 30,000 different community resources from food pantries to where the free tax prep sites are during holiday season, where do I go to get free toys for my kids,” Weiner said.

Weiner said providing services isn’t the only way to help struggling families.

“Our focus is education, financial stability and health and wellness,” he said. “It’s helping to create financial stability within families, particularly working poor families with young children.”

Urban League Coordinator Beverly Moore said helping to get the income constrained to a better financial position by understanding where their money goes is an integral part of ensuring a positive future for the working poor.

“We give financial empowerment workshops. What we hear all the time is ‘I don’t make enough money or I can’t budget,’” she said. “We can kind of shift their thinking, empower them so that they’ll be more in charge of their money, as opposed to their money being in charge of them.”

Financial empowerment isn’t just for adults

By taking a dual approach to the problem, by also empowering kids, Moore said they are hoping to change the cycle of straddling the poverty line, to a cycle of practical money solutions.

“We want them to have the skill and the tools to make smart decisions when it comes to money,” she said. “And pass that information on to their family members.”

Along with practical solutions, there’s one other thing McDuffie felt was necessary for those who struggle to make ends meet.

“You have to give them hope,” she said. “We have to show them it can be done, and it gets done every day. We have to tell those stories.”