Surviving the New American Economy
Twenty-two years ago, Bill Moyers started documenting the story of two ordinary families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — families whose breadwinners had lost well-paying factory jobs. Relying on the belief that hard work is the key to a good living and better life, the Stanleys and the Neumanns, like millions of others, went about pursuing the American dream. But as they found other jobs, got re-trained, and worked any time and overtime, they still found themselves on a downward slope, working harder and longer for less pay and fewer benefits, facing devastating challenges and difficult choices.
Bill Moyers revisits his reports on the Stanleys and Neumanns — whose stories Bill updates on the July 9 Frontline report “Two American Families.” He also talks with the authors of two important books about how the changing nature of the economy is affecting everyone: Barbara Miner, a public education advocate who’s been following the decline of her own Milwaukee hometown for nearly 40 years and just published Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City; and author, activist and playwright Barbara Garson, who’s published a number of books about the changing lives of working Americans. Her most recent is Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great Recession.
“The growing [economic] disparity didn’t happen as some sort of natural event, like the rain falling from the sky… it really is the result of policy decisions,” Miner tells Bill.
“Forty years of concentrated efforts have gone to lowering wages, whether it was breaking unions or creating laws that allowed you to make more money overseas than you might have otherwise,” says Garson. “We just have to raise wages — not only for the sake of people getting the low wages, but if we don’t raise wages, we’re well on our way to the next debt crisis.”
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