This alarming and heart-wrenching documentary puts a human face on the growing economic squeeze that is forcing millions of workers into the ranks of the poor. Shot in the Northeast and California, Waging A Living profiles four different Americans who work full-time but still can’t make ends meet. Despite their hard work and determination, these four find themselves, as one observes, “hustling backwards.”
One in four American workers—more than 30 million people—are stuck in jobs that pay less than the federal poverty level for a family of four. Housing costs, to name just one of several essential living expenses, have tripled since 1979, while real wages for male low-wage workers are actually less than they were 30 years ago. But the new face of the working poor is overwhelmingly that of a woman struggling to support her children. Only 37 percent of single mothers receive child support, and that support averages just $1,331 per year. Nearly a quarter of the country’s children now live below the poverty line.
What do these numbers mean in human terms? What is it really like to work full-time and remain poor? Roger Weisberg’s Waging A Living provides a sobering answer.
Producer, director, and writer Roger Weisberg formed Public Policy Productions1982. After four years as a staff producer for Thirteen/WNET, the New York public television station, Weisberg launched this independent production company to extend the reach and impact of his documentary productions.
He has produced twenty-nine documentaries on subjects ranging from health care, aging, and the environment to defense policy, child welfare, adolescent sexuality, and criminal justice. All have aired in prime time on PBS in the U.S. and several were sold to television markets around the world and were extensively distributed in the home video market and educational market worldwide.
Weisberg’s documentaries have won over one hundred awards including Peabody, Emmy, and duPont-Columbia awards. Some of the films are verite style documentaries with no narration. Others are hosted and narrated by prominent actors including Meryl Streep, Helen Hayes, and James Earl Jones, as well as distinguished journalists including Marvin Kalb, Jane Pauley, and Walter Cronkite. Weisberg’s 1993 documentary, Road Scholar, and his 1999 documentary, Sound and Fury, had broad theatrical releases before airing on PBS. Weisberg received an Academy Award nomination in 2000 for Sound and Fury and in 2003 for Why Can’t We Be A Family Again?
His productions include Waging A Living about low-wage workers struggling to achieve the elusive American dream, Rosevelt’s America about the efforts of a Liberian refugee to build a new life for his family in America, Aging Out about teens that leave foster care and suddenly discover that they’re on their own, and With No Direction Home about the efforts of an abused and neglected teenager to take control of his life and Critical Condition about the nation's health insurance crisis.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2001.
Ehrenreich put her money (or lack thereof) where her mouth was and put herself in the shoes of those she was studying – women working unskilled jobs. The result is an insightful look at welfare reform and those who must live by its rules.
Johnson, Jennifer. Getting By on the Minimum: The Lives of Working Class Women. New York: Routledge, 2002.
A look at the hurdles of working life for 60 white, married mothers from Baltimore ages 35-52. Utilizing the words of its interviewees, this book provides a real, honest look at working class women.
Newman, Katherine. No Shame in My Game: The Working Poor in the Inner City. New York:Vintage, 2000.
An in-depth look at America’s working poor through the eyes of Harvard anthropologist Katherine Newman. Newman and her graduate students did this exhaustive study to get to the truth about the working poor.
Wilson, William Julius. When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor. New York: Vintage, 1996.
Wilson argues that high levels of unemployment and the disappearance of unskilled jobs have contributed to urban poverty.