U.S. Poverty: Joe Gallardo, Austin Dad, Supports Family On $22,000 A Year

12/16/2011 09:01 am ET | Updated Dec 16, 2011

When doctor's bills started to mount after Joe Gallardo's daughter was born prematurely in September, the father of three took on a second job -- upping his work hours to about 15 a day. But even with the additional time he clocks at Gatti's Pizza, Gallardo, 28, is barely scraping by. He lives with his fiancé's parents, a home he shares with 14 other family members.

The Gallardos, who live on $22,000 a year, are just one of a record 10.2 million low-income working families -- the highest number this country has seen in at least a decade -- according to a new analysis by the Working Poor Families Project and the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit research group based in Washington. This new reality means that struggling parents, like Gallardo, are forced to sacrifice sleep, family time and their well-being in order to barely make enough money.

The South Austin dad begins his workday at 3 a.m. at Gatti's Pizza, where he prepares pizza dough for about eight hours. He tries to catch a quick nap before he starts his second job at Fiesta, a grocery store, at 3 p.m., but that's not an easy feat for someone sharing a home with 14 others. He stocks shelves until 10:30 p.m. and takes one day off a week.

"Basically, I had no choice," Gallardo told The Huffington Post of his decision to work two jobs. "I have to do something to try and provide for my family."

Gallardo, who brings home about $1,800 a month, isn't the anomaly when it comes to the face of struggling families, but he also has the added challenge of bearing a tarnished record. Since serving three years in prison for a burglary he committed in 2005, Gallardo said he's committed to starting over, to dedicating himself to a crime-free life and providing the best he can for his family.

But these days, such staunch determination isn't always enough, especially in the West and the South, which have been hit the hardest, according to the Associated Press. Both Texas and California have the most low-income families, each with more than 1 million.

"The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near poor are dismal," Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor who specializes in poverty, told the Associated Press. "If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years."

These economic woes have taken a visible toll on the Gallardo family.

Though Gallardo carves out movie nights and family dinners for his one day off, he said it's been about a year since he and his fiancé, Norma, 22, have spent any quality time alone. He said his kids, who are 6, 5 and 3 months, have been missing their dad since he started working around the clock in July.

"The most difficult part is not spending as much time with my family as I would usually spend before I started working two jobs," Gallardo said. "It gets kind of depressing sometimes."

While the Gallardo family has been able to seek help from Any Baby Can, an Austin nonprofit that serves the area's poorest, sickest and youngest children and their families, the organization says it's been inundated with requests from clients in need of its programs.

While the organization is able to serve 6,000 clients a year, it has had to implement a waiting list, which has 104 people who are eagerly waiting the chance to get access to the therapy, financial and health programs Any Baby Can offers.

"We are tightening our belts," said Allison Daskam, communications manager. "They were already very tight."

Though Gallardo has had to squeeze his entire family into one of the four bedrooms in his fiancé’s parents' house for more than a year, he hopes to start looking for a place to call his own after Christmas.

"Sometimes I don't have energy, but I just force myself to do it," Gallardo said. "I just think about my kids and that's just all the motivation I need."

Want to help Austin families in need like the Gallardos? Consider donating to Any Baby Can here.