In the early 1990s, Bill Moyers began following two Milwaukee families, the Neumanns and the Stanleys, as they struggled to keep a foothold in the middle class in the face of economic changes that largely destroyed the city’s decently-paid, unionized manufacturing jobs. An earlier documentary, Surviving the Good Times, showcased the two incredibly hard-working families’ efforts to adapt to the new economic reality. Their stories highlight the difficulty of trying to achieve the American Dream on a series of jobs that rarely pay a living wage or offer any benefits.
And how about now? Twenty years after he first started following their lives, Moyers returned to Milwaukee to see how they had fared during the housing bubble and subsequent economic crisis. Two American Families shows the increasing economic precariousness each family experiences over two decades and the impacts this has on the opportunities they can provide their children. It’s a heartbreaking look at the effects of large-scale economic changes on individual families.
PBS has also posted interviews with a few of the family members about why they participated in the new film, as well as an update on how they’re doing since they were last filmed. And you can find a number of charts on the changing economy and its impacts on families here, and some data about Milwaukee specifically here.Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
Cobra_x30 — July 14, 2013
I watched this show and then the interviews afterwards and was very disappointed. I feel like they could have done something very very interesting and deep, but instead chose to be intellectually vapid. The commentators basically respond to this situation by saying we need a higher minimum wage, plus more taxes and government jobs. Then take a few pathetic jabs at Reagan.
If you were willing to bomb every competitive economy back into post WW2 rubble, then loan those people the money to buy expensive American produced goods to rebuild... I think their philosophy would work. Otherwise these idiots are just trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. The world has changed... we have competition. More efficient transportation and communication has made the world much smaller. We can either adapt, evolve, and stay ahead... or let these silly dinosaurs and their failed philosophy help us manage our own decline.
As for the families. They seem to be trapped by structural changes within the economy and adapting to it as best they can. I feel for the African American family in particular. I hope to see them succeed in the future because they have great attitudes and great faith! They strike me as the type of people Americans should strive to be like. When the family has a tough time, the boys start a lawncare business and help out their parents. Instead of focusing on this as a tale of "woe is me"... these kids should be an example of courage and endurance!