What Happened to the American Dream?

June 20, 2013
Since 1992, Bill Moyers has been following the story of two ordinary, hard-working families in Milwaukee — one black, one white — as they battle to keep from sliding into poverty. A remarkable portrait of perseverance, Two American Families, which airs July 9, raises unsettling questions about the changing nature of the U.S. economy and the fate of a declining middle class. Check your local listings here.

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 basic necessities of daily life?

FRONTLINE’s Two American Families follows two ordinary families who have spent the past 20 years in an extraordinary battle to keep from sliding into poverty.

The film, a collaboration with veteran PBS journalist Bill Moyers, who has followed the Stanleys and the Neumanns over the years, raises unsettling questions about the changing nature of the American economy and the fate of a declining middle class.

“He will not be able to see the retirement, you know, that he probably would hope for when he was working at A.O. Smith,” say Keith Stanley, the son of Claude Stanley who was laid off from a steady, good paying job in the early ’90s. “That’s just not a reality. My heart goes out to that generation that was promised something from America, by America, that they would have a better life and that’s not the case anymore.”

FRONTLINE hosted a special preview and discussion of the film to explore what happened to the American dream, and whether current policies are enough to help the millions of Americans living on the edge of poverty.

Guest panelists included Emmy Award-winning filmmakers Tom Casciato and Kathleen Hughes, who produced Two American Families; Erin Currier, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project; Margaret Simms, a senior fellow at The Urban Institute; Hedrick Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of the new book Who Stole the American Dream; and Scott Winship, fellow, Brookings Institution.The discussion was moderated by David Fanning, executive producer of FRONTLINE.

Funding for this event was provided by The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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