Waging a Living

Waging a Living is a thought-provoking documentary that tests the mantra “get a job” to see whether low-wage jobholders — otherwise known as the “working poor” — can pull themselves and their families out of poverty. Filmed in California, New York and New Jersey over a three-year period, the film tracks the ups and downs of four ethnically diverse Americans living below the poverty line on minimum wages as they face a persistent struggle to make ends meet. A very good look at the working poor in America told through the eyes of: 1. a newly divorced mother, 2. a former drug addict who cleaned himself up and works a full time job, 3. a divorced mother of three who also is supporting a very sick adult daughter plus four grandchildren on a single paycheck, 4. and a single mother from a broken home with one sick child who tries to further her education while on minimum wage. Thought-provoking and interesting situations. A film that will resonate with people in different ways. This revealing documentary asks us to consider how the American Dream actually works. It’s the lowly journey of the many, versus the upward destination of the few, that’s worth considering. From one perspective, if you’re fortunate, this film likely will reinforce your belief in your superior intelligence and strategic life choices — perhaps even your genetics. After all, why would hard times fall on any but the inferior? This reminds me of Job’s friends in the Bible, who insisted he must have done something to deserve all his suffering. But from the opposite perspective, if you’re less than fortunate, say having been downsized or divorced or challenged by illness, you’ll have understanding and compassion for the human struggles in this film. To work so hard and receive so little in return doesn’t sound like a “dream” to me. As one says, “I’m hustling backwards”, and another says, “Steal my identity, please do.” Excellent documentary that shows the real struggles of the working poor. It seems quite authentic, because it took me back to those days when, even though I was making more than minimum wage, it was still tough to make it from paycheck to paycheck. I am amazed at how these people survive on so little. This is the reality of life in America for so many Americans who have low wage jobs. They are stuck barely scraping by, with no insurance, no job security, but still working 40+ hours per week. The stories are gripping and each is unique, each person has their own reasons for getting stuck in the cycle of the low wage jobs. And these reasons are why most Americans end up in poverty: those reasons being divorce, illness, unstable & abusive childhood, and drug & alcohol addiction. Viewing this doc is like reading someone’s biography, but starting at chapter 10. Since the producer gives no background information about the four subjects’ earlier years, the viewer is forced to concoct his own. Strictly guessing here (what else can I do?), I visualized these people as wasting their formative teenage years choosing a good time over a good education. So such is the price one pays for making bad decisions. A common theme is the plight of broken families where separation/divorce and providing for children has caused great hardships that led to misery. My overwhelming sadness in viewing this is for their children who bear no responsibility in the cruel fate they were dealt. My sympathy goes out to the children. The part that bothers me about it is when there are so many kids in the mix. If you don’t have any savings, or don’t have a stable job, or don’t have a stable marriage, why are you bringing 4 or 5 children into the world? Contraception is not very expensive! For example, the mother of five children. For some time now birth control has been readily available and inexpensive to purchase. Try using it……it’s much cheaper and easier to deal with than a child. Why should other taxpayers pay for your failure to plan? I’m all for helping out people fallen on hard times for unexpected things that can happen to anyone (for instance, Hurricane Katrina, etc.). But for people with no savings and a bad marriage and low paying jobs to have five kids is really not too smart. So this is a fairly accurate, exasperating look at how the working poor eek out their lives in our brutal freakonomy. But I found it somewhat difficult to feel sorry for, or identify with, some of the people featured. The people in this film – how to put it politely? – I don’t want to say, “Well, it kind of figures.” but, one guy in it is a reformed alcoholic, one woman grew up as an abused child, and some of them have way too many kids than they should have thought of having. I would have really liked to see someone who didn’t have kids because they were smart enough to know better, who got the education, who tried to connect all the dots…and yet still failed to achieve the dream. I would have liked to have seen at least one of the subjects from my own demographic: a highly educated person who can barely get work, even though (s)he did everything right. Such a film would have gotten the point across better, in my humble opinion. The widening gap between the rich and the poor is seriously worrying and so unjust. It raises doubts about the idea that the capitalist system is the best system — and that if you work hard you’ll get rich. Nonetheless, the film does have a happy ending (sort of) and everything seems to work out for the most part. The stories of a waitress, health care aide, or security guard, are as compelling as those of a member of the Kennedy or Bush clan. Please–take a look at four true American’s and decide for yourself who the real heroes are in the world. This is an excellent documentary. documentary that really shows you were we are at economically as a country. It shows how hard it is for those on the bottom, but this film also has a lot of good moments. I found myself really wrapped up in the lives of the four characters, eager to see how things would work out for each. Never a dull moment here. A well-made film, that can be difficult to watch at times, but you find yourself falling in love with its subjects! I was moved to tears several times — out of joy and out of sadness. These people are working very hard, but yet they still struggle to make ends meet. Normally you think if you work hard you can get ahead. But it wasn’t that easy for these people. Definitely watch the 30 minute extra at the end about a refugee named Rosevelt Henderson from Liberia who lives in Chicago — this guy is inspiring! He had to leave his wife and unborn child in Liberia due to the war, but he has his daughter and grandchild, father, mother, and two sons living with him. Having not been born in America, he does not have a sense of “entitlement” whereby he expects the government to just give him stuff. He loves America for giving him the opportunity to mop floors, drive an airport shuttle bus, fold boxes, etc. He, being paid minimum wage, is living the American Dream and loving it. He too gets laid off, but somehow he keeps a good attitude. I think his experience in Liberia makes him realize that the USA is a much better place no matter how little money he makes. He said working hard gets you the American dream. And also, it was wonderful to see the love he and his wife have for one another and for their children — a wonderful family! However, be aware that this Liberian refugee story has some brief yet horrific war footage from that country, including an execution in the streets that is not for everyone to view. So in conclusion, this documentary sheds light on an issue that I just hadn’t really thought about before. It deals with a very difficult issue that is invisible to most people I know — the working poor. What I think is the saddest thing about the film is that more people don’t get to see it. If people watched this film, then maybe some things would change. This film appeared on the POV series on Public Broadcasting (PBS). Documentary 2004 NR 85 minutes.


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