United Way of Anchorage is always looking for ways to help people in our community thrive, and we’re guided by our focuses. Education. Financial stability. Health. Sometimes, we must address underlying issues. In 2023, we’ve come to better understand why some people are struggling to secure meaningful jobs.
Our recent Listening Sessions, co-hosted with the Alaska Humanities Forum, allowed us to get community members’ insights about their key challenges. One session focused on job access issues. With passion in her voice and authenticity in her tone, a woman named Roz told us what her past 20 years have been like.
“I got my first job in high school doing payroll,” says Roz, referencing 2003 when, as a young woman, the money seemed good. But her wages never improved. “You should be excited to go to work, but stagnant or declining wages make it hard.”
Since graduating, she’s struggled to find gainful employment. Roz insists that “work” should mean “opportunity.” She earned a hairstylist license, ran a daycare and maintained employment through adulthood. “There’ve been times I’ve had to decide Do I pay the state to renew a license or feed my kids?” Roz is proud of her efforts but feels that too many barriers exist for job seekers and current workers.
She decided to switch jobs, hoping a nearby location and benefits would help. A cafeteria manager position opened at her kids’ school, and Roz jumped. Her wages decreased to $16.34—paying less than her high school job. Still, she found joy connecting with students, and it radiates from her face and sparkles from her eyes when she talks about children. They motivated Roz to apply for a position to work with them directly.
Despite her wages staying the same, she took a paraprofessional educator job. “I figured if I’m going to get paid the same,” Roz says, “I’d rather do it working with the kids.” Soon, she began college again—this time to earn bachelor’s degrees in special education and elementary education. “I wanted to up myself.”
When her mandatory internship occurred, Roz and her children faced significant challenges, making the past few years even more grueling. “So often I’ve wondered How do I get there without giving up?” She sounds tired, but she’s stayed focused on finishing her education. Fortunately, her degrees will be conferred soon. “Over the years, I built trust with my landlord,” says Roz, which paved the way for her to make rent arrangements. “Otherwise, I would’ve had to take a break from school.”
Roz is grateful she’s had her family’s, friends’ and others’ support as she’s pursued professional advancements. Not everyone has that. “With job access issues, you have to keep evaluating yourself, but sometimes you just want to quit,” says Roz. “I’ve spent most of life feeling like I live to work and work to live.”
To see changes in our community related to job access and gainful employment, we must work together. Then we can stave off the hopeless feelings many people experience, which Roz expressed. Will you help us support job seekers? Together, with our funded partners, nonprofits and community leaders, we can make Anchorage a thriving place for everyone.