November 4, 2015 12:00 pm
A landmark new 6-part series about getting by in America, Hard Earned originally aired on Al Jazeera's documentary series Al Jazeera America Presents in May and June. It will be rebroadcast on Al Jazeera starting November 22.
The annual IDA Documentary Awards celebrates the best nonfiction films, programs and filmmakers of the year at the world’s most prestigious event dedicated solely to the documentary genre. The ceremony takes places on Saturday, December 5, 2015 in Los Angeles.
The Hard Earned series producer is Maggie Bowman, directors are Katy Chevigny, Maria Finitzo, Ruth Leitman, Brad Lichtenstein, and Joanna Rudnick, with series editors & co-directors Liz Kaar and David E. Simpson, and executive producers Steve James, Justine Nagan, and Gordon Quinn. Congratulations to them all - and to our colleagues at Al Jazeera America!
In six one-hour episodes, Kartemquin and Al Jazeera America's Hard Earned follows the families both at work and at home, as they juggle the rising costs of housing, education, food, medical bills and more – all while working low-wage jobs. As widening economic inequality and the wealth gap continue to increase in the U.S., can these lower-income families get ahead? How are wage stagnation, student loan debt and demographic shifts in the workforce contributing to financial instability for many Americans?
In Evergreen Park, Illinois – a suburb of Chicago – we meet 50-year-old Emilia Stancati, who works full-time as a waitress at a downtown restaurant chain after losing her higher-paying union construction job. “When you ask for what would be my dream, I don’t have one,” she says. “My dream would be to have weekends off.” She lives off credit cards when she doesn’t make enough money to support herself and works to re-invent herself professionally one more time.
In Chicago, 24-year-old Takita Akins and her boyfriend, 23-year-old De’Jaun “DJ” Jackson, are raising two children and working hourly jobs at Walgreens. “I love my job but the pay is not good,” Akins says. “Right now, we’re living paycheck to paycheck.” Jackson says, “I can’t get down [about money] because my family is looking at me.” DJ joins the national “Fight for 15” movement in the hopes that organizing with his co-workers can lead to changes for all low-wage workers.
In Montgomery County, Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C., 32-year-old Jose Merino works as a clerical worker after serving two tours in Iraq. “When I [first] came back, I couldn’t find a job anywhere,” Merino says. He lives with his young son and his girlfriend, 27-year-old high school counselor Elizabeth Bonta. “You always hear about the rich and famous, and then you hear about the complete and utter opposite,” she says. “But you never hear about people that have credit card debt, three kids they’re putting through college or living with a stepson and modifying their life. That, I think, is the American story.” In spite of the struggle, Merino and Bonta take a shot at the American dream of home ownership in an effort to give their son his own bedroom.
In Silicon Valley, CA, 20-year-old Mexican-American Hilton Kennedy III juggles multiple jobs, including his work in the corporate cafeteria at Google’s Mountain View campus, yet he and his pregnant girlfriend, 18-year-old Diana Gonzalez, can only afford to live in a garage in a Silicon Valley trailer park that they share with Diana’s cousin. “The situation in Tijuana is very difficult, and in the U.S. I have the opportunity to be more,” he says. Kennedy and Gonzalez work to move out of the garage and move up at work, all while navigating a personal tragedy.
In Milwaukee, WI, 66-year-old Percy Evans and his wife Beverly Evans (65) contend with filing for bankruptcy and avoiding foreclosure on their home, after having lost the middle-class salary jobs they had worked for many years. Now they work multiple low-paying jobs, contend with health issues, plan for a retirement that looks very different from what they had anticipated, and try to hold onto their position as the cornerstone of their large family.