Watch an exhausted single mom rouse her young children out of bed before dawn to take them to a 24-hour subsidized childcare facility.
See the hard-working single mom feed, wash, lift, and love dependent elders in a nursing facility for $9.49 an hour.
Listen as she tells her own children not to go outside in the cold rain or jump on the sofa in their trailer home so they won’t get sick or injured, so she won’t have to miss work without pay or wind up with medical bills she can ill afford.
Hear her tell her own doctor about suffering from a three month long headache, panic attacks at work, and the prescriptions for Graves disease (a thyroid disorder) she can’t afford to fill.
Feel the pain of 7-year-old Brooklynn, 5-year-old Lydia and 3-year-old Trent as they give up their beloved puppy because it’s too expensive to keep it.
"Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert" is the kind of reality TV all Americans should be watching, especially those who do not live it. Gilbert is one of the 42 million single women in the U.S. in or at the brink of poverty, 13 million of whom are mothers. Her kids are three of the 28 million children being raised in a family that teeters one paycheck away from homelessness. Forty-two million women plus 28 million children equals 70 million Americans. That’s about the size of the population of Turkey. But this is not another country. It isn’t some “other America.” It is America.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Gilbert was happily married, but her husband became addicted to prescription painkillers and spiraled down. She had to choose herself and her children over her marriage and sent him packing. That was the first of many tough choices that dog her at every turn.
When she finally scores a tax refund through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – perhaps the most successful government anti-poverty initiative aimed at the working poor – her first thought is to pay off her car. A close second is to buy presents for her children. They didn’t get birthday parties or gifts last year.
Katrina Gilbert is a great mom. And, yes, she yells at her kids sometimes. But she puts their needs first and knows it has to be that way; she hugs and kisses them and tells them she loves them everyday. And, she’s trying to improve her own life prospects for them. She decides to go to college so that she can land a higher-earning position in the medical field. She is a role model to her children of persistence, resourcefulness and resilience.
Paycheck to Paycheck is part of “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink.” The film comes out at a time when many issues critical to low-income families are being debated in Washington and around the country: minimum wage, SNAP benefits (food stamps), CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program), federal subsidies for child care, changes to EITC, and paid sick leave.
The documentary credits include the Center for American Progress , 9 to 5, and the National Women’s Law Center. Spokespeople from these advocacy groups aren’t featured in the film for a good reason. Katrina Gilbert’s own life – her struggles, disappointments and dreams - speaks more forcefully than any inside-the-Beltway expert can. Are we listening?
"Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert" debuts MONDAY, MARCH 17 (9:00-10:15 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO, and will be available free online on hbo.com, ShriverReport.org and YouTube, March 17-24.
Photo by Michael Gomez/Courtesy of HBO