Two American Families
Tuesday, July 9, 2013, at 10 p.m. on PBS
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It’s a central premise of the American dream: If you’re willing to work hard, you’ll be able to make a living and build a better life for your children.

But what if working hard isn’t enough to ensure success—or even the basics of daily life?

Two American Families, a special 90-minute FRONTLINE documentary more than two decades in the making, is a portrait of perseverance that raises unsettling questions about the changing nature of the American economy and the fate of a declining middle class.

Airing Tuesday, July 9, 2013, at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), this is the saga of two ordinary families in Milwaukee—one black, one white—who have spent the past 21 years in an extraordinary battle to keep from sliding into poverty.

“There’s something that I always say: ‘So a man thinketh, so is he,’” Jackie Stanley, the matriarch of the African American Stanley family, tells correspondent Bill Moyers. “If I think poverty all the time, I’ll act that way. I can’t afford to talk negative and then allow my children to see me that way, down or depressed.”

Moyers and producers Tom Casciato and Kathleen Hughes first began documenting the lives of the Stanleys and the Neumanns more than two decades ago, shortly after the breadwinners in both families had lost well-paying factory jobs and were struggling to adapt to a new, global economy.

“When I got laid off, they wanted me to go on welfare, but I could not stand in that line,” says Claude Stanley, Jackie’s husband. “I just said, it’s not me … I say, I got my strength, my health; I’m going to find me a job.”

“It really bothers us that we have to depend on other people,” says Terry Neumann, the matriarch of the white family. “You just want to get up and … go in the car and go grocery shopping and have a normal life again.”

With searing intimacy, Two American Families chronicles the stories of the Neumanns and the Stanleys through the present as they try to keep their homes, their health insurance and their dignity. The film is the fourth installment in a series of PBS documentaries following the two families that began in 1992 with Minimum Wages: The New Economy and continued throughout the 1990s with two more films—a 1995 collaboration with FRONTLINE calledLiving on the Edge and a 2000 PBS special called Surviving the Good Times.

Twelve years, two administrations and a Great Recession have passed since that most recent broadcast, and nearly 50 million Americans are now living in poverty. Trends toward low-wage, part-time work have only increased.

How are the Stanleys and the Neumanns making do? After fighting for living wages for more than 20 years, have they found an economic foothold? Are they and their now-grown children financially secure? Have they been able to hold their families together? Will they persevere?

As Jackie Stanley says, “We have no other choice.”



More about Two American Families (coming to Frontline on PBS, July 9, 2013)

For 10 years, beginning in 1991 with a PBS documentary called “Minimum Wages, The New Economy” and continuing throughout the 1990s with two more films– a 1995 collaboration with Frontline called “Living On the Edge” and a 2000 PBS Special called “Surviving The Good Times” — Kathleen Hughes, Tom Casciato and Bill Moyers chronicled the stories of Milwaukee’s Terry and Tony Neumann and Jackie and Claude Stanley and their families as they tried to keep their homes, their health insurance and their hopes for the future after devastating layoffs from well-paying manufacturing jobs. By the end of the decade, as President Bill Clinton heralded  what he called the” longest peace-time economic expansion” in the nation’s history, the Neumanns and Stanleys were working longer hours with less security, as the gap between the middle class and the prosperous top of America grew larger and larger. Twelve years, two administrations and a Great Recession later, we returned to Milwaukee to see how both families and their now-grown children are faring.  Watch for “Two American Families,” coming this summer to Frontline on PBS.  Below, left to right, Claude Stanley, Jackie Stanley, Bill Moyers.


Surviving the Good Times

 “This is documentary television at its best.”

Rocky Mountain News

“What Bill Moyers and his longtime colleagues Tom Casciato and Kathleen Hughes have done is not only rather remarkable, but even commendable.”

New York Newsday









The Stanley brothers: Keith, Claude Jr., and Klaudale Stanley, shown here in 1999.  ”Surviving The Good Times” aired on PBS in 2000. Watch it in its entirety here:


Previous projects in this series:

Living on the Edge (1995)

 “Reminiscent of Hoop Dreams in its scope, this admirable project could be called Life Dreams as it examines the fallout from a national nightmare for blue-collar workers.”

USA Today

“Bruce Springsteen’s … The Ghost of Tom Joad, a brooding song cycle about society’s dispossessed, might well serve as the companion piece to this film … unsparing and unsettling.”


“The flow of good jobs out of America to cheap-labor countries has become a fact of American life, and “Living on the Edge” tells what that means for a few of the men and women left behind.”

New York Times

-  Christopher Award

- Honorable Mention, Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award


Minimum Wages: The New Economy (1992)

 “… a powerful look at how the American dream is vanishing right before America’s eyes.”

Hollywood Reporter

 “… hits a national nerve …”

New York Daily News

 “… a bleak but powerful portrait …”

Wall Street Journal