‘Two American Families’

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Watch Bill Moyers’ July 9, 2013 Frontline documentary about two ordinary, hard-working families in Milwaukee.

Since 1992, Bill Moyers has been following the story of these two middle-class families — one black, one white — as they battle to keep from sliding into poverty. He first met the Stanleys and Neumanns when they were featured in his 1990 documentary Minimum Wages: The New Economy. The families were revisited in 1995 for Living on the Edge, and again in 2000 for Surviving the Good Times.

Bill Moyers revisited his reports on the Stanleys and Neumanns and talked about issues raised with authors Barbara Miner and Barbara Garson on the July 5 episode of Moyers & Company, “Surviving the New American Economy.”

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  • comadre

    Last night’s documentary broke my heart. To have such hard-working families struggling so very much because corporate America has outsourced their jobs seems unconscionable to me.

    Milwaukee is simply a microcosm of what is happening all over the USA. If it continues, I believe we are on the way to becoming a third world nation.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, Mr. Moyers, for this phenomenal work, and of course to everyone in your production team. My sincerest gratitude also goes out to the Stanley and Neumann families for sharing such intimate, often painful details of their lives. We are all richer for it.

  • Living in the Redwoods

    I am ashamed of myself. Ashamed of my cynical and negative views of the situation presented in this well done video.

    In my cynical view there are two groups presented, those that labor and those that harvest the fruits of that labor.
    I see these two groups as widely separated as the zebra, and the lion that eats that zebra.
    Of course it’s natural for the lion to eat the zebra without feeling responsible for the pain caused to the zebra.
    Is it just as natural for one group of humans to prey on other humans with no responsibility for the people they prey on?
    Is it possible that humans can rise above nature in this respect?

  • rebelnurse

    My heart went out to both families-Hard working great people with the same dreams, hopes and goals we all had. the sadness of there losses broken dreams represents the journey for many in the last 20 years the loss of America how cynical society has become- One Job or illness away from destruction-So many still not realizing our rights have been stolen away-Even the healthcare has become a socialized monopolized crime organization .Greed has been the down fall of many empires through out history to present- So have all these corporate-political traitors responsible for the demise and sell out of America realized once there done robbing- killing and ripping the heart out of America there will be nothing left to pick off the carcass then they will cease to exsist as well..To both families I wish all of you better days you are not the minority you are the majority!! Bill thank you for having the foresight 20 years ago to follow the path of two of our fellow American Families you knew the road we were going down,I knew as well watching the destruction of the healthcare system & now walking in the shoes of so many patients-benefits being denied routinely even when you paid into them since the age of 14- Doctors forced to turn there back on there oath-do harm lie the state will protect you -no treatment then the system assaults you more forces you to be a burden to fellow tax payers- the justice system will not protect you then the banks and everyone else will grab what you worked for until there is nothing left. For a single mom nurse who never missed a bill in my life-to go from 350% above poverty line to 72% under in just a few years ..Unable to get care myself after 30 years of giving it .It scares the hell out of me knowing that this is the norm now .& how people will be targeted with health problems run out of there jobs denied benefits -even the lawyers will not work in your favor they have been sucked into the healthcare crime organization as well summit medical group-Off shore accounts-Trips to Ireland 2010(Prep for socialized medicine) robbing doctors of there practices connor strong buckelew (Norcross) core source- cooper – somerset medical center- RWJ -UMDJ -atlantic health- JFK-state of NJ & agencies- courts-social security
    We are all at risk regardless of ethnic religious color or income it has all come down to what is right & what is so wrong…

  • Bob

    Mrs. Stanley, you are no failure! What wonderful children you have raised. Great job, I admire you.

  • Mo

    It is programming like this that keeps the Republicans rallying against funding for PBS. These two families lives fly directly against the narrative that they want to preach.

  • ricardo
  • FreelanceWriterGal

    I watched “Surviving the Good Times” – so knew that I needed to make time to see “Two Families” (and just viewed it on my computer because I missed it on TV last night). These are both incredible documentaries, and I am so impressed with both families’ determination to make a life for themselves despite all the obstacles and set-backs. My reason for watching “Two Families” was really because I got laid-off with 200 co-workers in 2008 and my life hasn’t been the same since then…so I wanted to see how things turned out for the Stanleys and Newmans. It made me realize that I’m not alone in feeling that I can’t get my old economic standard back no matter how much I struggle to do so. The people featured in this documentary are really inspirational for staying positive in the face of so many setbacks. I learned a lot from watching them.

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    Thank you, Mr. Moyers, for this
    phenomenal work, and of course to everyone in your production team. My
    sincerest gratitude also goes out to the Stanley and Neumann families
    for sharing such intimate, often painful details of their lives. We are
    all richer for it.

  • Sharkswithfrickinglazers

    Great job Bill!

    Your buddy Charlie Rose really, really needs your help.

    His website team is having all kinds of problems and Charlie is out on assignment.

    Please Bill, help Charlie.

    Send over your team, your template, anything buddy.


    The United States of America IS a 3rd world nation and the sooner they admit it the faster they will come out of it. Canada is running a close second and we have always admitted it because we have a neighbour who helps us but the influence of their politics has poisoned our political scene (see Stephen Harper) and we are fed up with the Conservative and the Liberal way of governing. Keep watching us. There will be another party in Ottawa because Canadians want it that way.

  • Morteza Ansari

    I watched the “Two American Families” documentary on TV hosted by Bill Moyer in this passed Tuesday night. My heart went for both families. Next day, coincidently, I read this article”To Achieve the American Dream, you first must define it”. It was published in New Jersey paper, Star ledger July 8, 2013 written by Charles Jaffe as a columnist for Market Watch.

    I am confused now. I need to know where is American Dream for these 2 families now?
    Every thing that these two families have gone though with a lot of financial problems and sad conditions in first 10-15 years of their married life seem to me don’t match with the definition of American Dream defined by Mr. Jaffe in his article. According to Mr. Bill Moyer documentry, more than a decade hard working having several jobs and a lot of sacrifices did not help them to have an access to simple life let alone
    “a good life” that they deserve. However, I admire what these two families have gone through for surviving and keep chasing American dream. hope they make it.

  • Barry David Butler

    My Original Song and Video!

    Barry David Butler
    Sebring, Florida

  • Anonymous

    When you educate the Zebra on self defence and exterminate the lions.

  • Anonymous

    What GOOD people they all are, too.

  • Tricia Layden

    I know there are a lot of people aware of the decisions that affect the growing gap between rich and poor who do all they can to lobby for greater equality, writing letters, signing petitions, forwarding same. What more can we do??? We are ordinary people coping ourselves the best we can, helping out where our lives intersect with those less fortunate.

  • Anonymous

    I disagree that it is natural for one group of humans to prey on another. In these times, with this Congress, it is normal, but it certainly isn’t natural. I see all the time those who have little themselves, give what they can to others, while the rich, not all of them but most, greedily grab everything within and outside of their reach regardless of who they starve, or kill, or maim. During the Depression people who had nothing, helped when they were able, those who had less than nothing. It still goes on nowadays but those who have always helped the less fortunate are now the less fortunate themselves and have little left. There is a fix for this and it’s at the voting booth. Keep in your mind what you think is important and before you vote for that incumbent the next time, find out how they voted on people issues. Did they vote for Americans or for Corporations and their rich buddies. We are many; they are few. If we have a chance to fix this, it is only at the ballot box en masse, by aggressive impeachment of Senators and Congressmen when needed, and by participating at every level of our government. We may all go down the tubes from what the Corporatocracy has done to America, but at least we should be on our feet and fighting them to our last breath. When you think that little thing they did wasn’t anything that hurt you, remember you well may be next, so you must care when you see others being trampled on and stand up and say “enough”, this must stop!

  • Anonymous

    I have come to love Percy Shelley’s “The Masque of Anarchy” that speaks of the English people’s uprising against their oppressor overlords. These last lines which speak to me as never before when I see what is happening in this country…”Rise like lions after slumber…in unconquerable numbers….shake you chains to earth like dew…that in sleep had fallen on you…Ye are many, They are few.”

  • Suzanne

    Thank you, Bill Moyers and PBS, for illuminating the real American Dream as it now exists for millions. Never, in a million years, did I think I would find myself without the ability to feed, clothe, and care for myself at the age of 62. I am a Registered Nurse, having lost nearly all savings in the market crash, and a victim of a system that does not reward experience over cheap, often foreign labor. Yes, even in the healthcare industry. But, at least I’m not trying to raise a family in this era. Your story about these families broke my heart. Mr. Moyers, what will this story be in 10 years?

  • Burke Ritchie

    You could improve your presentation, Bill, if you would show a family or two which was a success story in the heyday of the middle class (fifties and sixties) in order to provide a scale for the sad story of the middle class which we see today. Then give us some why’s and how’s for the transition from riches to rags. Take a look at the think tanks.
    These professors without teaching portfolio are armchair capitalist theorists as out of touch with the citizenry as their counterpart Marxist theorists were before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Also why can’t our political parties find real talent in depth and breath to run for office among our educated and talented citizenry. We can see how narrow the pool of candidates for office is when we see the spectacle of bringing back Elliott Spitzer or Mark Sanford to run for office.

  • Donald Goldmacher

    Burke, if you want to see that film, it is entitled, “Heist:Who Stole the American Dream?” You can see it here. I know about it, because I produced it last year. Having come from a working class family, I did experience the American Dream, but now watch in amazement how corporate America has taken over our lives. Nothing will alter this unless we come together and build a movement similar to what is happening in other countries like Brazil, Turkey, countries in Europe, etc.

  • Anonymous

    God bless you Bill Moyers! I am so happy you came back from
    retirement stronger and more fired up to reveal the truth than ever! You
    rule! This was a sad story and I know from my own experiences that it
    rings true for millions of us out here in reality land while the
    corporate pirates rape our country’s democratic soul. They have no
    allegiance or patriotism or sense of healthy community. They only care
    about money and power.

    We must have civil disobedience soon – will you lead us Bill?
    There seems to be a shortage of brave, intelligent leaders willing to
    take on the system – from the outside, which historically is the only
    way things change.

  • hughmac

    PBS’s Frontline may be the finest investigative journalism in television. “Two American Families,” it is worth finding and watching as it touches at the heart of the American Dream and is also a monumental documentary.
    It is phenomenal to realize that this documentary has been in the making for 23 years…a tribute to the foresight and dedication of Bill Moyers who had no preconceptions when it started but ended up with an epic (albeit small-scale) saga of the what is, to too many people, the empty remnants of the American Dream. It is similar in structure to Michael Apted’s superb “7-up” film series as you watch the development and metamorphosis of real people. It probably wont win an Emmy as news programs seldom do, but emmy-schlemy it rightly deserves a Pulitzer.
    It seems we used to perceive the “American dream” as the opportunity for everyone who worked hard and followed the rules to be able to have a job, a home, an education, the promise of a better life for our children, and a safe deserved retirement. Each generation was supposed to do better than the last. But then when Ronald Reagan became president, he was asked to define the “American Dream”. He said it was the possibility that anyone could be a millionaire. He really believed this. His priority for anyONE as opposed to EVERYone belied the fundamental principle of equal opportunity and justice for all, not just some”ONE”. And over time Reagonomics certainly did indeed create many millionaires…and multimillionaires…and billionaires. But at what expense? The destruction of the middle class? The loss of equal opportunity? Just a few of the things we lost in the pursuit of corporate profit. Since then, our society has witnessed the greatest shift of wealth ever from the middle class to the super-rich.In reality, we lost much more.
    The two families followed here did everything they could to work hard, provide for their families and to support their communities in the promise of the American dream. In two of Americas most prosperous decades, too many people just like them saw the destruction of our social safety net, the loss of community infrastructure and the inequality of opportunity. As you watch these families, who in other decades would have been the backbone of the middle class become today’s Joads, your heart goes out to them…for they are still trying hard to endure…but are having a hard time believing the American dream will ever apply to them. And you will have a hard time believing it as well.
    Yet we did create a lot of millionaires after Reagan…but at what expense? This documentary shows some of the human expense of our economic restructuring of the last 30 years. These folks did everything they could to make our country a better place. They tried to live the “dream”. They deserve better. Our society deserves better.

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.hamilton.980 Drew Hamilton

    What an excellent documentary. It was strange to see a pre-teen say of Bill Clinton, “that’s a president I can trust!” but otherwise very insightful.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that that many that are not as old as I, will never know what it is like to live with hope for a better life. Sad legacy we have left our children.

  • Chris

    I saw the documentary, “Two American Families” on
    Tuesday night. I thought it was very representative of American families throughout the country during the Reagan, Bush, Bush Jr. and Clinton Administrations. In my region of the country many of those jobs are the type the Stanley and Neumann’s family fall back on (these are our primary jobs in New Mexico). No matter many of us have been facing the same situations those families have been facing.

    It’s very generous of those families to give of themselves showing, explaining their situations to the rest of the country.
    These children were especially insightful reflecting on their parents’

    Within the borders of New Mexico where I reside, our governor has the idea we can grow economically if we rob other states of their second rate employers. Our governor has offered industrial
    revenue bonds, tax free “holidays” imposed on taxpayers of the State of New Mexico for the benefit of these employers.

  • Anonymous

    Milwaukee sucks… move to North Dakota.

  • Anonymous

    It was heart wretching to see two dedicated proud families struggle through 20 plus years of low wages, zero health care, and zero security. They did everything imaginable in my mind to get a leg up in life and attempt to provide a solid future for their kids. The american dream became the american nightmare as they struggle to secure honest living wages , in a brutal capitalism, that sucks the blood out, and leaves one a empty carcass, like many of the empty buildings boarded up around them. Its a testament to the extreme selfishness of american society, that they cant provide living wages for a man to raise his family, yet there are trillions for pre-emptive wars, bloated health care, orwellian homeland security, and brutal prisons. What a twisted value system we show the rest of the world. They came here for several centuries for the same reasons – freedom and hope — and then a Frenchman created a statue that embodied their hopes and dreams. And it embodied America’s promise as well. “Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to be free…”
    Fast forward two hundred years, and we will take those same poor and hungry and bleed them dry.

  • Mike C.

    Thank you bleeding hearts for showing me how absolutely stupid you are over a documentary who only shows their side and no facts… god bless a second, third and fourth chance as long as no one knows what we’re doing with the money.

  • Cyn

    I want to hold these families in my arms and rock them. Tears are streaming down my face.

  • Wisconsin3

    Thank you for this excellent documentary. I lived in Milwaukee for 14 years, and as a college-educated person, struggled to find jobs that paid over $12.00. Long before the downturn in 2008 I was piecing together a life with part-time jobs with no benefits. I lived simply, no credit cards, kept a spreadsheet of my budget, and ate home-made meals of stews and spaghetti. One hospital visit put me in debt while being fully employed at one point with benefits, and I had to go to a food pantry. It was only by getting a few breaks and starting my own business that I finally got out the paycheck to paycheck living. It seems like one of the only ways to get out of the hole of the low income trap is to become your own boss. Two other family members started their own businesses over 10 years ago when they couldn’t get hired for decent wages, and have succeeded, though they, like me, live with high work stress. I feel for the Stanley’s, who made an honest attempt at going out on their own. Jackie’s experience with racism as a real estate agent is real and can’t be overlooked as a major contributor to their struggles. “I can’t sell in the most affluent areas here. That hurts. But they’ll call me for central city.”

  • Dixie Girl

    Mr. Moyer’s what a beautiful, touching, amazing and important documentary film. It was so touching. Thank you so much for all you do. The film was both inspiring because of the way the Stanley stood strong and yet still struggle to this very day. It was depressing b/c of what happened to the Neumanns. My heart breaks for them and the millions of other families just like them. I love, in a way, that you don’t answer the question looming above it all – what is to become of America, our American way of life, if this continues. Yet there is a part of me that wants that answer – needs that answer – because I am one of these families – I am an white American Neumann family. I am a 65 year old white female working 60 hrs a week to make ends meet. I will never be able to retire. I will have to work until I can work no more. God only know what will happen. The Neumanns and The Stanley’s struggles are all of our struggles – what will become of America – we are going backwards not forward. And you, and PBS are the only one depicting that story. Again, truly thank you from the bottom of my for all you do. You are one of the few hopes still out there. Lydie M. Phillips

  • Brenda of Brooklyn


  • Brenda of Brooklyn

    Does anyone in DC own a TV??? This should be required watching for the CRIMINAL RULING CLASS!

  • Anonymous

    Excellent, as usual. But the commercial interruptions are REALLY irritating.

  • hawaiigent

    This show is why I admire and love Frontline. It puts a human face on the charts and statistics. It is hard not to bleed for people who try their best and can’t stay afloat. It is a shame in a country that holds itself to the world as exemplary. And where great wealth still prevails. I grew up in a day where the future looked bright, and rising in situation and home ownership was possible. Not easy, but not facing the kinds of walls that prevail in places like Milwaukee. I will not get into the Scott Walker governor business, but his sentiments are not laudable or helpful to the people he serves. Those pictured in this powerful documentary. thanks Bill….

  • Bob

    Excellent, but absolutely heartbreaking! It would so much easier not to know, to just hide from the reality of what is REALLY going on in the country. It hurts deeply! But you would never know if all you listened to was the nightly news or the beltway media. Thank you Bill and Frontline!

  • Russell Spears

    Even when capitalism is completely broken, Americans find it hard to imagine better. We need to have and support more Worker Owned and Operated Enterprises. The capitalists class is just leaching off the efforts of hard working families

  • tracnard

    Thank you; you have helped me understand what”s going on i

  • JB

    For those who are puzzled by why the bank didn’t make a deal
    with Mrs. Newman and sold it to Qu-yan and Lu-law For $38,000. The reason is, there
    is too much money to be made in foreclosures. This video shows how: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssl5yb7FewA

  • Kate

    What I find most shameful is that these people see themselves as failures. They are completely blameless for the failure of the so-called American dream coming true for them and their children. The failure is in the corporate system, the greed of the corporate stockholders, the banks, and the inept government officials.

  • Anonymous

    What amazed me (or actually didn’t, just reinforced) was the broken promises from Bush 1 up until Obama. They all give lip service to the middle class but the system is rigged. I admire Claud’s faith and determination. He is a true inspiration. I wish I had someone like him in my life to keep me going. But honestly, those good-paying jobs are not coming back. We are the new generation of serfs to the aristocracy working for minimum wage. Congress should be forced to watch this film. God bless you Bill Moyers.

  • La2

    Wow! How sad. This country is in so much trouble. Knock, knock! Is anyone in D.C. home?

  • TinTincognito

    I would like it when governments announce they have been able to create so many new jobs to admit that they are simply changing the working environment to one of precarious employment where workers don’t dare stand up for their rights and the capitalist elite extract as much of the surplus value as they can.