The recession officially ended years ago, but there are still thousands of families in America that were once middle class but now face poverty and homelessness. Some were laid off and have been unable to find new jobs, either because they are older than what employers are looking for or because they’ve been unemployed so long that their skills have gone stale. Some have found new jobs, but the wages are so low they still can’t support their families without assistance from food banks or government programs.
Their stories are captured in the HBO documentary American Winter. The movie follows eight formerly middle-class families in Portland, Oregon during the winter of 2011. There’s 53-year-old John, who once had a good-paying accounting job but found himself in his fourth year of unemployment. There’s Pam and Brandon, who had to move their family of four into her mother’s two-bedroom apartment. And there’s Diedre, who, despite having a college education, had to turn to donating plasma and selling scrap metal just to feed her family.
As some of our state and federal lawmakers try to out-do each other by proposing ever deeper cuts to programs that help struggling families, it’s important to remember the people who will be affected. If you’ve always been secure enough to know you don’t have to worry about how you’ll feed your children or keep a roof over their heads, it may be hard to imagine going from middle class to poverty. It’s difficult to fathom that, in America, there are educated, hard-working people who simply can’t find jobs that will enable them to provide for their families.
Go see American Winter. You may find that these families are very similar to yours – except for the loss of one job that proved to be irreplaceable in today’s unforgiving economy.