New Documentary "Paycheck to Paycheck" Depicts Real Struggles of Poverty and Minimum Wage

Katrina Gilbert is one in a million – one in 42 million, to be exact. The subject of the new HBO documentary Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert--part of the series The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back From The Brink--Gilbert is a single mother of three struggling to get ahead in a system that seems designed to see her fail. 

With such mind-boggling statistics – 42 million American women and 28 million American children live beneath or right above the poverty line -- it is sometimes hard to truly comprehend the real impact of poverty in America, especially since the poor are so well hidden (or made invisible) in popular culture. The impact of issues such as minimum wage, unpaid sick days, and cost of healthcare in a single-parent family is often lost on anybody not experiencing these struggles. In Paycheck to Paycheck, Gilbert becomes, as Executive Producer Maria Shriver put it, “the face of [today's] working poor.” 

We follow Gilbert and her children through a year in their lives. Gilbert works constantly – sometimes 8 days in a row without a break – as a Certified Nurse Assistant, making just $9.49 an hour. Her ex-husband, Jeremy, who she separated from after he became addicted to pain pills but can’t divorce because of the legal costs, wants to contribute to child care but can’t find a job, and is so poor that Gilbert has to give him money for gas when he comes to pick up the children for the weekend. Gilbert experiences migraines and chronic thyroid problems caused by Graves' disease but can’t afford medication or regular visits to the doctor. She worries about feeding her children after losing their food stamps. She wants to return to school, hoping it will help her escape poverty, but her financial aid application is rejected despite the fact that she makes only about $18,000 a year. Her one lifeline is the Chambliss Center, a childcare center for low-income families.

After watching Gilbert’s three children crying as they say goodbye to their pet dog, sold on Craigslist for $40 because they can no longer afford to keep him, it’s hard to believe that anyone could support keeping the minimum wage below $10, or spread the myth that the poor are poor because they are lazy.

In discussion with Shriver and Gilbert after the New York premiere of Paycheck to Paycheck, Gloria Steinem highlights the many different issues the film highlights:

"We should have free higher education as so many other countries do.We should not be graduating in debt, as so many people are. We should not have childcare that costs on average more than a college education. We should have, as every other industrialized, advanced democracy in the world has, a national system of childcare. We should be mad as hell – and we’re not gonna take it anymore.” 

The Shriver Report hopes to spread this outrage by making Paycheck to Paycheck free to watch beginning at 9pm on March 17 through March 24 on,, and YouTube. It will also air on HBO and HBO2 at various times between March 17 and March 31. Viewers are encouraged to hold a viewing party and discussion, follow their screening guide. 

Watch the trailer below, and to watch the full film click here. 

This is a guest post by the lovely Erika W. Smith





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