Ask the Filmmaker

Celeste from Florida asks: Have you tried to send this film to Congress? Our Senators and Representatives are people who should be responsible for looking out for all Americans, not just the few and powerful. It would be great if you could show them this film.

Roger Weisberg: Three different organizations -- The Hatcher Group, Outreach Extensions, and POV -- have organized screenings and policy forums in over 30 cities. These events are designed to bring together legislators, civic leaders, business leaders, labor organizers, and advocacy groups to address the policy implications of the issues raised by film. An event that was hosted by the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. on July 26th made a special effort to target legislators. The transcript of this discussion can be found on the POV website for Waging a Living.

Roland from Tennesses asks: I'm considered to be professional, since I have a bachelor and an associates degree, and I have a job, but yet I'm in debt and can barely support my family. Some days I do not eat any more than a slice of bread, so my children and wife can have something better. Do you have any plans on doing a film about "young professionals" like me who get out of school owing more than we are making and who are unable to achieve the American Dream?

Weisberg: As you may know, I joined forces with Barbara Ehrenreich to help spread the word about the broadcast of "Waging a Living." Her engaging new book, Bait and Switch, addresses this problem of the downward mobility of the middle class. Sadly, the recently released census figures confirm the decline in wages for the middle class. This is a pressing issue and one that I hope to address in a future production

Jeff from New York asks: This is more of process-type question. How did you choose your own point-of-view for this film? With hours and hours of film, what criteria did you use to narrow that down to make the finished product?

Weisberg: My point of view was formed by previous reporting I've done for other PBS documentaries about poverty and social policy. One of my earlier films, Ending Welfare As We Know It, looked at the impact welfare reform by following people who exhausted their lifetime limit of public assistance. The lucky ones that left the welfare rolls and found jobs rarely were able to hold onto those jobs for more than a few months. And, none of the former welfare recipients we profiled were able to find jobs that paid a living wage. The struggles of these former welfare recipients became the inspiration for Waging a Living.

We interviewed over a hundred low-wage earners and choose a dozen to follow for three years. We picked the four that were included in the final film for several reasons: 1) their stories developed the most compelling dramatic arch, 2) they reflected the racial, ethnic, and geographical diversity of America's working poor, 3) their narratives complimented rather than duplicated each other, and 4) each of the stories raised different policy questions that can serve as a catalyst for further discussion and debate.

Diana from Oregon asks: I was very impressed by your film. Because of personal problems, i.e. a recent divorce and some of the fears I have about money, this was an eye opening experience. I admire each of your subjects for rising above their circumstances and carrying on. I was very discouraged about our current welfare laws that seem to step on people like Barbara. Can any of these circumstances and laws be changed? If so, how? And what will you be working on next?

Weisberg: Of course, there are policies that we could adopt to help low-wage earners pull their families out of poverty. We could start by raising the minimum wage which has not been raised for almost a decade and is worth 30% less than it was in 1979. We could join the rest of the developed world and adopt some form of universal health insurance. In addition, there are many supports for low-wage earners that could be strengthened like the EITC (earned income tax credit), subsidized housing, child care assistance, college scholarships and tax credits, food stamps, Medicaid, and child support enforcement. Employers also could expand and improve worker education and training programs.

My next production, Money and Medicine* (working title), examines the nation's growing health insurance crisis. For the past 10 months, we've been chronicling the struggles of about fifteen seriously ill patients without medical insurance. This new documentary will air on PBS during the 2008 presidential election campaign when we expect there to be a heated debate over health care reform.

*Note: Roger's latest project was completed and broadcast on POV in 2008 as Critical Condition.