United Way aims to fight poverty - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

United Way aims to fight poverty

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As protests at fast food restaurants across the country for a higher minimum wage continue, we wanted to know just how far a minimum wage job can take someone in Cape Girardeau.

It's not going to take you very far, that's for sure.

"By the time you factor in gas and groceries, after the bills, it's extremely hard," said 23-year-old Aaron Lerma of Cape Girardeau.

Lerma works 40 hours a week at Wal-Mart barely making more than minimum wage.

He says even with a roommate, he struggles to get by.

"The only luxurious thing we have is Internet. And that's because it was cheaper than to get television," he said. "We can't put back savings."

Aaron's story is one that many people in the Heartland can relate to.

According to the United Way, 27 percent of households in Cape Girardeau earn less than $25,000 a year.

Nearly 13,000 people in Cape are living below the poverty line, nearly half of which are kids.

"You would have to have at least two full-time minimum wage jobs to live self sufficiently if you're a member of a household with children," said Nancy Jernigan with the United Way.

According to the Self-Suffiency Standard for Cape Girardeau County, an adult with a preschooler would need to make nearly $19,000 a year.

That's an hourly wage of $8.88, much higher than Missouri's minimum wage of $7.35.

"It is surviving and that's what so many people are just doing. Surviving. And we need them to thrive. And they can thrive in this community, it's all about creating opportunities," said Jernigan.

Jernigan and the United Way are trying to create more opportunities for the poor by pairing those living in poverty or working low wage jobs with navigators. 

Navigators are people who have connections to more job training or better work.

Jernigan hopes the program, set to begin later this year, will open doors and begin to curb poverty in Cape.

"We don't always take no for an answer. We keep working it, calling people we know who open doors for us," Jernigan said.  "People who live in poverty don't have those connections. They only know other people living in poverty."

The United Way is currently in the process of recruiting navigators to help those in poverty or low paying jobs get better work.

If you'd like to become a navigator, contact the United Way in Cape Girardeau at 573-334-9634.

Copyright 2013 KFVS. All rights reserved.

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