Preview: 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 even as they found new 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.

On the next Moyers & Company, 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.

Learn more about the production team behind Moyers & Company. Watch the full show »

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  • Donna Allgaier-Lamberti

    Bill, I hope you also make a program on the effects of the new economy on retirees. I know some retirees, those with the big incomes, no divorce and two retirements, are doing okay. But many of us, especially those who divorced, are struggling to live on one retirement (due to illness, time out to raise children, or raising children while supporting a spouse). Even those of us who scrimped and saved and had a next egg thought we would be fine BUT are not due to the housing market and stock market crash. Imagine never taking a vacation, never driving a new car, never buying new clothes or eating out, or never splurging in order to save for retirement and then to watch that retirement evaporate and lose 60% of it. My husband after 32 LOYAL years of an IT career in city government retired for just two years. When the economy crashed, he is now back to work at $8.00 an hour at Menard’s. By the time he gases the car, pays for his taxes and drive the 20 miles each way, he is likely working for $4.00 an hour – no benefits. Seniors are working again and struggling too.

  • cozmiccowgirl

    Try living paycheck to paycheck, with no retirement savings. Then try living on only social security.

  • Beej44

    The lack of regard for the middle class who worked and paid taxes to prepare our children for the fulfillment of the American dream. The lack of regard for intelligence and integrity. The lack of regard and training for teachers- all of these will lead to America’s downfall more than any terrorists’ plot.

  • Sylvia Walker

    Thanks for doing this program. I have wondered at times what happened to these families. I look forward to watching.

  • Anonymous

    This happened little by little one vote at a time. Allowing a firm to deduct the expenses of off shoring/out sourcing jobs. Allowing executives to include unrepatriated income in bonus & performance calculations and SEC filings. Not funding govt inspectors to adequately examine imported food, medicine & other products for compliance. Domestic & imported foods & drug safety has been left to the manufacturers who cut costs by not doing their job. When caught adulterating food or drugs they get trivial, tax deductible fines & mo jail time.

    We have also turned a blind eye to damage done to our primary & secondary school effectiveness. Teachers assigned to teach math, science, technology who have no pertinent training. Believe me, a teaching major in math, biology, chemistry, etc are pathetic. If we cared about education we would insist that no one enters a middle school or secondary school room without at least a bachelors in the subject being taught + targetted prep. in learning process & teaching methods

    And it is necessary for unions to take the lead in inproving member performance and helping trabsition those who lack capacity into more suitable professions.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, thank you ronnie and the evil 6 for the most part. Pay companies to move off shore or to Mexico, destroy the FCC, the Unions, and the eonomy with your debt. Thanks! Then the bushies come along and finish the job. Clinton signing Newt’s NAFTA did not help any. And guys like Mitt and his sort still at it offshoring jobs, and the Republicans won’t agree to legislation to stop paying for it.

  • Anonymous

    I Agree 100%! Many people now see what has happened and is continuing. Question now is how to stop/reverse the trend. Does anyone see any qualified leaders on the horizon? Would Hillary continue Bill’s damaging free trade agreements? We need someone with a storng personality like Chris Christie. Could he be persuaded to become a Democrat and support liberal policies and trade unions? My thinking is that the US needs to impose strong tariffs to prevent offshoring — or is it already too late?– have we already lost so much industry that tariffs will not have much effect?

  • Anonymous

    Good points. Regarding education, I think economics and Civics/American History are. especially important. A general knowledge of economics should have spotted the flaws in the “Supply Side” or “Trickle Down” “voodoo” economics perpetuated by the conservative/Tea Party. Only by keeping the population “dumbed-down” could such an economic theory gain such wide spread appeal. Also knowledge of our country’s history of the struggle between labor and corporate power may have prevented the present total take-over by the corporation — including the Citizen’s United decision of the SCOTUS.

  • Pelu Maad

    Christie would be in over his head even more than Obama….BUT….Christie won’t be intimidated. For a few years now I’ve realized that the day is probably coming when I’ll actually prefer Christie to some lame DLC corporate Dem type in a national election.

  • Pelu Maad

    We have met the enemy…and he is US?

  • judiththecripple

    Yes, Pogo…he is US.

  • Brenda of Brooklyn

    This did not happen by accident but rather by design…the effects are cumulative. What makes you think ANY of our politicians WANT to fix it? While democratic policies are marginally “better” the truth is they are tweedle dee & tweedle dumber. What will it take for the American public to stand up (literally) and say ENOUGH. America has begun to look like every bad futuristic dystopia movie of the 80’s.

  • ttowse

    We all know the problem and what has caused it. How do we rise up and take our nation back? OWS was a good start. We need another American Revolution because corporations and the 1% will never earn enough. Ironically the people who labor won’t either.

  • Mimi Crist

    Dear Mr Moyers, Please tell us how to stand against the billions of dollars our government gives to other countries while at the same time turning their backs on our needs. Your information on ALEK opened my eyes to the money handouts in Pueblo, Co We have a totally corrupt judicial system. The police and judges and lobbyist protect their own. Laws are of no importance here. Thank you for all that you do to inform us. Crimes against women are allowed here. We are a third world mentality with the good ‘ol boys making the laws. Mimi Crist, Pueblo, Co.

  • John Hayes

    Stop eating Hershey food products, buy American Made, find alternatives to voting Republicrat.

  • John Hayes

    In eight years, we have seen no advances in a jobs bill. We have seen bills advanced that do the EXACT OPPOSITE. There was nothing too hasty to bail out Wall Street, and other piggies who are more equalthan the 99%. We have received small change–literally pennies, nickels, dimes we can count on. STOP VOTING REPUBLICRAT.

  • Teresa

    While this is an interesting look at families in the heartland, a few points should be made. First of all, each family had more children than they should have. Second, none of the parents had any education initially past high school. I am a middle class white woman who lives on the West Coast. I chose not to have children when I was 14 years old, and to get my Bachelors degree as fast as possible. It was hard, my parents had 3 other children to support, so I worked through college. Those things are the reason I am still in the middle class. Too many people I have known over the years have told me they waited too long to go back to school to get the education they should have gotten when they were younger.

    It’s not by accident that the Stanleys’ oldest son who went to college put off starting a family. He gets it. This isn’t 1955, and will never be again.

  • Anonymous

    My husband and I do try. It ain’t easy, but we grow a lot of vegetables in the summer and freeze or can them for the rest of the year. All our savings are gone, we rent a house, and our entertainment is playing with the cats or going for a hike (we live in Denver). Resale shopping helps too.

  • cozmiccowgirl

    Our community is setting up a barter/exchange system. This is an economically depressed area of small towns and farms. An exchange system allows folks to trade skills and goods for other skills and goods, bypassing shopping altogether.