Unemployment East of 72nd Street

Unemployment 3Purpose

When we looked at the ACS (American Community Survey) 5-year estimates, Omaha’s unemployment rate is highest east of 72nd Street.  Eight zip code areas are above the national unemployment rate of 6.7%.  Many areas are two or even three times higher than Omaha’s unemployment rate of 4.0 %.  We hope to identify issues that prevent the unemployed from finding jobs and work towards a better economy for Omaha east of 72nd Street.


We want to find out if there is a gap in unemployment services and how to create easier job seeking conditions by hosting a key stakeholders’ discussion.  We also hope the stakeholders will identify best practices and/or services that could provide solutions to those looking for work.

The Meeting

We conducted a community engagement survey of two Omaha Public Library locations in North Omaha (Charles B. Washington Branch) and east of 72nd street (Benson Branch) in January 2014.  One of the main issues identified by branch staff was the high unemployment rate in their service areas.  After looking closer at U.S. census data, we found the unemployment rate information cited in our purpose statement.

Our invitation list was created by meeting people at community events (Omaha Together One Community meeting, Teen Job Fair, etc.) and emailing or calling them later.  The email invitations included a Doodle poll with 16 options for the best available date and time.  We sent emails to 22 people and 11 responded to the Doodle poll.  We ended up having to hold our conversation quickly because only one date/time worked for all 11 people.  Since the popular date was a week away from our poll deadline, we did not have time to practice our agenda with another FIT team group.  We felt the experience gained during the first pilot project, training days, and shared handouts would guide us through the second pilot project experience.

We ended up with 14 attendees at the meeting on March 25, 2014.  Eight of the 11 that responded to the Doodle poll were there as well as a few others who had been invited by colleagues or others.  One attendee was an Omaha Public Library Board of Trustees member. We think this method worked really well for our unemployment discussion.  There were options in the poll where only 0-2 people were available so we chose the most optimal time that the majority could meet!

We started the conversation by introducing ourselves and explaining the meeting’s goal:

OPL is committed to helping the community make connections.  That’s what we’re here to do today.  Through this conversation we are bringing groups together to create
connections between people working on similar issues, define shared ideas, and work toward finding a problem to work on together or apart.

Statistics show the unemployment rate in Omaha is 4% which is below the national average of 6.7%.  When we look at specific zip codes east of 72nd Street, we start to see numbers well above the average.  David Drozd will be speaking more on this topic in a bit.Unemployment 1

OPL is not here to take on the work you are already doing so well.  We are here to find ways to maximize your efforts and work collaboratively on this topic.

We’ve brought you here today so that, maybe through our conversation, we can discover unifying themes that may contribute to the high unemployment rate east of 72nd Street.

We wrote the goal summary and agenda on a whiteboard for participants to refer to during the discussion.

  • Agenda
  • Activity
  • David Drozd
  • Discussion
  • Next Steps

We introduced an icebreaker activity to set the tone and get participants comfortable with each other.   They formed pairs and took one minute to introduce themselves to each other, name what organization they were from, and tell what brought them here today.  They then answered these questions:

  • What is the best job you’ve ever had?
  • What made it the best job?

The pairs then reported out to the group by introducing their partner and sharing a quick summary of their best job.  The icebreaker activity went well.

David Drozd, Research Coordinator, University of Nebraska at Omaha Center for Public Affairs Research, spoke about 10-15 minutes on the unemployment numbers east of 72nd Street.  This was very helpful as it framed the facilitated conversation afterward.

We decided not to start with any ground rules.  If we got to a point in the discussion where they were needed, we would introduce them.  This ended up not being necessary.  We traded roles as facilitator and flip charter for each question.  We also changed the order of questions on-the-fly to get things accomplished in the allotted time.

We opened the conversation by asking “What Services Do You Offer?” The participants responded with many items.  Computers, online access, and training workshops were the most popular services.  Other services included skills and job training, free assessments, and job fairs.

We then asked participants about their “thoughts on barriers” for people east of 72nd Street seeking gainful employment.  Participants responded with barriers such as the technology gap; transportation; having an established work history; substance abuse; education/skills; not enough jobs; online applications; and the welfare cliff (where benefits outweigh employment).

Participants were then asked to “share successes and challenges” they have faced within their organization.  Successes included partnerships; career, job, and tech education; services spread through word of mouth; free bus passes for classes; tutoring; and many agencies are working on this problem together.  The challenges included reading levels; a big pool of applicants; physical/mental issues; a continuation of learning English; job/skill mismatch; and funding.

The participants were then asked to look at the list of services, success/challenges, barriers, and who they are serving to see if they could “identify unifying themes”.  They identified 4 major themes.   We gave everyone a sticky dot to vote for the theme they wanted to address as a group conversation.

The voting results were –

  • Partnerships – 5 votes
  • Transportation
  • Education | Skills | Technology – 9 votes
  • Work Closely with Employees

While there was a lot of discussion around transportation, nobody selected transportation as a discussion issue.

Our last question was “what would success look like for Education | Skills | Technology?”

The participants’ ideas were –

  • Additional education through the job after hiring
  • A faster–paced track to employment
  • Practical internships where education is better tied to the job
  • Everyone has the necessary technology and skills
  • A place to find all free online job training/tech resources
  • That the word about services is connected to those seeking it
  • Personality assessment matching to skills
  • Social/soft skills training
  • NCRC (National Child Research Center) model
  • Having a job coach/mentor.

We thanked everyone for taking time out of their day to have this conversation.  We noted that great information came out of this meeting.  We agreed to share contact information so the group could work together or separately on the issues discussed.

Finally, we asked the group for feedback by doing a meeting Plus / Delta evaluation.

The Pluses included –

  • Having refreshments (M&M’s, kettle corn, lemon water, mints)
  • Location and room (Benson Branch Library meeting room)
  • The icebreaker activity (favorite job)
  • David’s census data overview
  • The facilitators’ organization
  • The flow of the agenda

Deltas (areas for change) included –

  • Bringing employers into the discussion
  • Having a next meeting in place
  • Bringing in more people/experts who could talk about ways that organizations could partner on projects

Since we didn’t do a Plus/Delta in the first pilot projects, this was a nice way to capture more timely feedback.

After the meeting

Sarah VanRaden, a library staff member who had attended a Pilot Project 1 discussion, remarked that this facilitated meeting was better organized and ran more smoothly than the first facilitated meeting she attended.  This was really great information to have from an internal staff perspective.   Perhaps we should invite her to a Pilot Project 3 meeting for her evaluative comments.  Sarah could also write a short blog post about her observations from all three meetings.

People came up to us and remarked that they really enjoyed the conversation.  We had one lady tell us how disappointed she is that we are not continuing to lead this topic.  Side note reflection – it does feel awkward to have this amazing conversation and then BAM, we are out of it.  It is like going on an amazing date and your date never calls for a second date.

We definitely had interest from other attendees about meeting again.  We’re hoping this is a conversation that could continue or turn into a Pilot Project 3.

Posted by Amy Mather and Melanie Feyerherm Schultz

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