Two American Families
BILL MOYERS, Correspondent: Hello, and welcome to this special edition of FRONTLINE. I’m Bill Moyers.
We want to tell you the story of two American families whose lives embody what’s happened to the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans over the past 20 years.
It’s a story that begins in Milwaukee back in 1991, when we first met the Stanleys and the Neumanns, families my mother, rest her soul, would have called “the salt of the earth.”
TERRY NEUMANN: I want my kids to—
TONY NEUMANN: Grow up to be good kids.
TERRY NEUMANN: Yeah,. I want good children.
JACKIE STANLEY: I can tell you’ve been down South a long time. You’re saying “Yes Ma’am.”
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Hard workers, caring parents, faithful church-goers trying to secure a foothold in the middle class. But as we came back to visit them over the years, we watched their children grow and their fortunes change.
CLAUDE STANLEY: Now I’m putting the long hours in. You know, you’re getting money, but it’s not that much. And you say, “What’s the use?”
BILL MOYERS: We saw their work lives upended by the powerful economic and political forces that were altering the American landscape.
TERRY NEUMANN: Here’s my paycheck— $9,646.89. That’s poverty.
BILL MOYERS: As America ushered in a new Gilded Age, in Milwaukee, as in the rest of the country, working people found themselves left behind, barely staying even, at best.
So now, 22 years in the making, the intimate and revealing story of two American families.
TERRY NEUMANN: Tony and I have known each other since we were probably about 2 years old. His mother and my mother went to school together at Pulaski High School. And our grandparents, when our parents were younger, you know, they played cards. So they were pretty good friends.
I don’t know, we just started seeing each other, you know, spending a lot of time at each other’s houses. And he just asked me out, so I said OK. We were crazy about each other. We had to spend a lot of time together, you know, and I could just picture myself spending the rest of my life with him.
And our expectations were— I thought, you know, you find the man that you like and get married and have a family and get a house, a little white picket fence, you know, all those little fairy tale type things.
Some of it came true. But some of it, as far as the bumpy roads, I didn’t expect, either. You know, I knew they weren’t going to be all peaches and cream, but you don’t think of all the bad things when you’re younger.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Once upon a time, Terry Neumann and her husband, Tony, dreamed of a good, simple life.
TERRY NEUMANN: When we got married, we had started a family right away. He was working factory and I stayed home. And he made pretty good money when we were first married, you know, for a young couple with one little one on the way.
Grab a couple and crack ‘em in the pan.
I don’t know, we had a good time with one child, so we had another one and there was Adam. You know, and then I got pregnant with Karissa in ‘86. And he had lost his job. Then he got hired at Briggs, and we thought, OK, this is a very stable job. You know, we can start saving, and we bought the house.
BILL MOYERS: Buying a home was a big step for a young couple. But Tony had a good job with the engine maker Briggs and Stratton, then the largest employer in the region.
TELEVISION COMMERCIAL: Years ago, if you wanted a small engine, you got a Briggs and Stratton.
BILL MOYERS: For decades, Briggs and dozens of other stalwart Wisconsin manufacturers had helped make Milwaukee just about the American dream’s home town, celebrated in sitcoms and sentimentalized in beer commercials.
TELEVISION COMMERCIAL: So when Miller time rolls around tonight, we raise a glass to you, Milwaukee. You’ve earned it.
BILL MOYERS: When we met the Neumanns in the early ‘90s, American manufacturers had already begun chasing cheap labor to non-union states and Mexico. Of over 40,000 good-paying jobs lost from Milwaukee in the preceding decade, about 4,000 were from Briggs and Stratton.
One of them was Tony Neumann’s.
TONY NEUMANN: It sort of goes like this. Here and here—
TERRY NEUMANN: He gets into Briggs, and we think, “Oh, this is a good company. We can buy a house.” Now we have the house, we have more bills.
TONY NEUMANN: We got to drill a hole. How big a hole do you want?
ADAM NEUMANN: Not that big.
TERRY NEUMANN: But it’s either rent for the rest of your life or own. And we prefer to own. I mean—
BILL MOYERS: [on camera] That’s supposed to be the American dream.
TERRY NEUMANN: That’s supposed to be the American dream. Where is it?
BILL MOYERS: A house a good job—
TERRY NEUMANN: Where is it?
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Tony had been making up to $18 an hour plus benefits. Now the jobs available to a laid-off union worker commonly paid a fraction of that.
TONY NEUMANN: I’ve applied over at grocery stores, hardware stores. There’s—
TERRY NEUMANN: McDonald’s.
TONY NEUMANN: —Hardee’s—
TERRY NEUMANN: —Kohl’s—
TONY NEUMANN: —Super America, Pizza Hut, Walmart, Sam’s. Most of them will not pay $6 an hour. They’re all less than $6 an hour. Little do they know that I need to live also.
TERRY NEUMANN: And one of these. And then you need a business card to call Mommy up—
BILL MOYERS: While her husband looked for work, Terry tried to bring in some extra money. She bought skin care products and then tried reselling them to her neighbors, door to door.
TERRY NEUMANN: Look in the mirror and feel your face and say, “Well, you know, it’s softer”—
NEIGHBOR: It’s softer, yeah.
TERRY NEUMANN: —the complexion, the color. Yeah. And that’s basically why I wanted to share this with you.
BILL MOYERS: But she lost money on the deal, and their troubles just got worse.
TONY NEUMANN: Are you going to call him back?
TERRY NEUMANN: Am I going to call him back? Yeah, I’m going to have to call him back.
TONY NEUMANN: Well, you talked to him before.
BILL MOYERS: [on camera] How much is your mortgage a month?
TERRY NEUMANN: I believe it’s, like—
TONY NEUMANN: It’s $819.
TERRY NEUMANN: Yeah, $820, or something like that.
BILL MOYERS: And have you been able to make all the payments?
TERRY NEUMANN: No, and we’re behind. And today the mortgage company called me again.
BILL MOYERS: Again?
TERRY NEUMANN: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: What did they say?
TERRY NEUMANN: I didn’t answer them right now because I wanted to talk to Tony, and he wasn’t home. So I wanted to talk to him.
BILL MOYERS: You must dread it when the phone rings.
TERRY NEUMANN: I do. I cringe.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Long before the term “foreclosure crisis” was on America’s lips, laid-off working people were learning what it meant.
TERRY NEUMANN: [on the phone] I did send a $1,000 check in probably a few weeks back, but the check was sent back to me with a letter stating, “We will not accept a partial payment.” I don’t really think of that as a partial payment. I think of that as a basic payment and a good gesture on trying to get caught up.
Right now, we’re going through a hard time. My husband’s out of work. He went to school and he’s looking for a job. And I’m basically just trying to buy a little time so we can get on our feet again, you know, so we can get caught up. I would think that this is just going to be a temporary thing, not a permanent thing, and I really don’t want to lose my house.
Or are you just trying to tell me that they have to foreclose on the house if I don’t have that full amount? You would recommend it?
TONY NEUMANN: Is he putting this on paper? I want to know. Is he putting this on paper? Dear?
TERRY NEUMANN: It really bothers us that we have to depend on other people. Just want to get up and do what I have to do, just go in the car and go grocery shopping and have a normal life again.
FOOD PANTRY WORKER: You get the peanut butter and the honey—
TERRY NEUMANN: I don’t like having to go and ask and say, “I have no food in the house,” or something. “Can you help me out,” where when you would go and work and get a paycheck and come home and support yourself—
TONY NEUMANN: And you would be giving this food to other people.
TERRY NEUMANN: Right. Well, now the shoe’s on the other foot. Makes me feel very uncomfortable. I’d rather be on the giving side than the receiving.
FOOD PANTRY WORKER: They have peanut butter, flour, some pork here. I understand that if you put it over noodles or rice and maybe add a little onion that it’s quite palatable.
TONY NEUMANN: [holding baby bird] Oh, what happened to his ear? He wants to go back in his house? He doesn’t like all you kids.
ADAM NEUMANN: He don’t have no house.
TONY NEUMANN: Can you reach that high, or you want me to do it?
ADAM NEUMANN: I want to hold him all the way over there.
TONY NEUMANN: OK, you can hold him all the way over there.
TERRY NEUMANN: They’ve made comments to, like, “Mom, let’s sell the bookshelf.” They’ve got little baseball cards, “Mom, I’ll sell these.” And that hurts because they’re willing to sell their baseball cards to help their parents out.
TONY NEUMANN: I’ve been getting very angry lately. I’ve been losing my temper quite a bit. I’ve tried doing things. I work in the garage on woodworking things when I get angry, and that helps once in a while. I just— I’m having a hard time dealing with this.
TERRY NEUMANN: What are you doing today?
BILL MOYERS: [on camera] How do you deal with this pressure, the anger and the—
TERRY NEUMANN: I can’t. It’s very difficult.
TONY NEUMANN: Yeah, our marriage is really on the rocks. This is really a difficult time. This is a real difficult time. I’ve been thinking about divorce now for a while.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
TONY NEUMANN: I can’t deal with the situation. I’m just having a real hard time dealing with it.
BILL MOYERS: You feel guilty?
TONY NEUMANN: Yeah, I do. I feel I should be supporting my family.
BILL MOYERS: You think he really wants a divorce, or is this just an escape?
TERRY NEUMANN: I think it’s an escape and I just think he figures it’s an easy way out. But really, the problems are still going to be there because he’s still going to have to support us, and I feel it’s going to be worse. I just feel it’s just— just a tough time, and if we can just get through this, you know, then— then we’ll be back to the life that we had before.
PRIEST: Good morning, everybody. We gather on this Sunday morning in faith to praise our triune God, in the name of the Father and of the Son and—
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] As Tony and Terry prayed for better times, across town, in Milwaukee’s Central City, a second hard-working family found their faith being tested. Like Tony Neumann, Claude Stanley had also been laid off. He lost his assembly line job with big manufacturer A.O. Smith.
CLAUDE STANLEY: When I got laid off, they wanted me to go on welfare, but not— I could not stand in that line. I just said, “Not me.” This is not me. They want to give me food—- I say, “This is ain’t me.” I don’t want no food stamps. I say I got my strength, my health. I will find me a job. And I found me a job.
BILL MOYERS: He found a job waterproofing basements for less than $7 an hour, not even half of what he had been making.
CLAUDE STANLEY: You got to look at it on the real side. I cannot live like I was making $20 an hour. OK, that money is not there. So you might as well get it in your mind it’s not there no more. So OK, bring yourself down.
BILL MOYERS: Claude and his wife, Jackie, were raising five kids— their daughter, Nicole, about to enter college when we met her, the oldest son, Keith, the twins, Klaudale and Claude, Jr., and the youngest, Omega.
KEITH STANLEY: I think the hardest time is when you have to worry about coming home, like— like I say, always coming home, and then there’s a bill on the door saying the water’s cut off. Or there’s a— the guy just called saying he’s going to cut off the phone. Or the electricity’s off. And you have to wait for a couple of days until Mom and Dad can get enough money to put it back on.
BILL MOYERS: Their neighborhood, Sherman Park, was mostly African-American and had once thrived on factory jobs that paid enough to support a family. Now those jobs were disappearing, and people here were trying to figure out what to do next, people like Jackie Stanley, who had lost her job at Briggs.
JACKIE STANLEY: While I was on the motor line at Briggs, I began to study my real estate. I went 10 times for my real estate license. The 10th time, I passed. And I promised that as soon as Briggs did close the door that I was going to go on and do real estate. And that’s exactly what I did.
[on the phone] Hi, Joe. Yeah, this is Jacqueline Stanley from Homestead.
It’s just like anything else. It’s really unsure.
[on the phone]_ OK, I just got in and it says “ASAP.
You only get excited when you’re sitting at the closing and have the check in your hand. You never get over-exuberant. And I’m learning that every day.
NICOLE STANLEY: Mom’s real estate is tough on her. I’ve seen her try to wheel and deal deals. They seem so good, and at the last minute, they fall apart.
JACKIE STANLEY: [on the phone]_ The listing is for September. It’s already October.
NICOLE STANLEY: And that falling apart is our mortgage. That falling apart is the car note. And to someone else, it might not seem important, that they decide not to buy the house. But for us, it’s a matter of— not life and death, but it’s a matter of light and gas. And that’s scary.
BILL MOYERS: As good jobs left town, the number of African-Americans in poverty increased from about 25 percent in the 1970s to over 40 percent in the early ‘90s.
The Stanleys vowed it wouldn’t happen to them. But as property values fell in the Central City, so did real estate commissions. And when Jackie tried to sell in other neighborhoods, she met resistance.
JACKIE STANLEY: It was on the market for a year and didn’t sell.
BILL BERLAND: It’s because they didn’t have somebody as good as you.
JACKIE STANLEY: [laughs] OK.
BILL BERLAND: People of color really have a much more difficult time in our business making a living than white people. It may be a situation where she may call for a showing and not get the courtesy of a call back. Maybe her client that she takes in to a mortgage lender has a much more difficult time, even if their is good, getting a mortgage.
JACKIE STANLEY: [on the phone] All right, fax it to me.
I can’t sell suburbs. I can’t sell the most affluent areas here. And that hurts. But they’ll call me for Central City.
KEITH STANLEY: You talk to your friends, they always say, “Well, I’m going to be doing this this summer. Well, how about you?” And you’re like, “Well, I’m doing— working.” That’s all you just say right now is “I’m working.
And they always ask me “Why are you working? Why don’t you go out there and have fun like the rest of the kids do?” You can’t. You just can’t do it. You have to go out there and help your mom and dad.
BILL MOYERS: To help out, Keith Stanley and the twins, Claude, Jr., and Klaudale, started a business. They called it the Three Sons Lawn Care Service.
INTERVIEWER: How much money would you like to make when you grow up?
CLAUDE STANLEY, Jr.: Probably about a hundred million, something like that. Three hundred million, something like that.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think you will?
CLAUDE STANLEY, Jr.: Yeah.
KLAUDALE STANLEY: I seen my mom on the phone talking to the bill collectors, asking them, when they would take— the mortgage company, when they were about to take our house. She was pleading with the mortgage company. She asks the bill collectors to keep the light and sometimes the gas on. And that makes me want to do more, a lot more.
BILL MOYERS: The country was deep in recession in 1991. The president predicted it wouldn’t last.
Pres. GEORGE H. W. BUSH: We will get this recession behind us and return to growth soon. [applause] We will get on our way to a new record of expansion and achieve the competitive strength that will carry us into the next American century.
BILL MOYERS: But the problem was bigger than recession. By 1991, Milwaukee’s new economy depended on non-union manufacturing and service jobs, the vast majority of them offering lower pay and fewer benefits.
That was still the case when we returned to the city two years later. But by the beginning of 1993, there were expectations that things were about to turn around.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: I, William Jefferson Clinton, do solemnly swear—
—and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.
KLAUDALE STANLEY: From the way he ran his campaign, it was more like he would concentrate on America than Mexico, Europe, Africa, Asia. He wasn’t going to send more jobs or factories out of the country, and bring more in. And I guess that in the next four years, maybe we might have openings and maybe you might not have to film as many people in your— more people have jobs, and things will probably work out.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton!
KLAUDALE STANLEY: This president I think I can trust and relate to somehow.
KEITH STANLEY: Four more years. Four more years, buddy. You need to grow up a little bit.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: Today we celebrate the mystery of American renewal!
KEITH STANLEY: I been there with Reagan, Bush and now Clinton. I’m not saying I don’t trust presidents. It’s that you say a lot of stuff to get on top. Even if I was running for something, I’d say— I’d be like, I’m— “Everybody get free candy and everything,” you know? So you say a lot of stuff to get on top.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: We inherit an economy that is still the world’s strongest, but is weakened by business failures, stagnant wages—
TERRY NEUMANN: I think if they work on jobs first, a lot of people would probably be more energized, you know? Give people something to wake up to every morning, you know, a purpose!
TONY NEUMANN: A purpose and a lot more self-respect.
TERRY NEUMANN: Right. And I think that will change a lot of people’s attitudes.
TONY NEUMANN: Changed mine.
TERRY NEUMANN: Yeah.
PRIEST: I invited the Neumanns around the Lord’s table because a year ago, they may not have had as much to be thankful for, right? You didn’t have a steady job then, did you?
TONY NEUMANN: That’s a fact.
PRIEST: That’s a fact. What is the fact today?
TONY NEUMANN: I have more than enough work.
PRIEST: More than enough work!
BILL MOYERS: Tony Neumann had found a job making engine parts in a small factory. Like many in the new light manufacturing sector, the job was non-union. It paid $8.25 an hour, with no benefits. It got the Neumanns back on their feet, but it wouldn’t balance their books.
TERRY NEUMANN: Just with the mortgage, we got, well, three months behind. And it will take us two years to get to pay that back because they tack on the interest and penalty charges and whatever else, so that three months takes two years. That’s a long time.
So whatever extra money we have, we send it because we want to make sure that in the next year, we have it paid off so they don’t take the house.
BILL MOYERS: To make ends meet, they needed more money.
DANIEL NEUMANN: Guess what? I’m on the honor roll!
TERRY NEUMANN: That’s great!
BILL MOYERS: And Terry, like so many of her generation, realized she would have to go to work despite needing to be home for the kids. She began taking a series of low-wage part-time day jobs.
TERRY NEUMANN: [behind lunch counter] Anyone for peas?
BILL MOYERS: Meanwhile, her husband Tony worked the night shift full-time.
TERRY NEUMANN: Tonight is Boy Scouts. They have a pack meeting once a month where all of the dens get all together and they come.
SCOUT LEADER: Adam Neumann has passed uniform inspection.
TERRY NEUMANN: They have their awards being passed out on that night, so this is kind of like a big night.
SCOUT LEADER: Daniel Neumann, please come up with your mom or dad or both.
TERRY NEUMANN: That’s one thing Tony misses because he used to be very involved in Scouts. So he had to give that up.
TERRY NEUMANN: Good job, Daniel!
TERRY NEUMANN: Daniel!
KARISSA NEUMANN: Daniel!
TERRY NEUMANN: Daniel! Look for your homework!
KARISSA NEUMANN: Get in here!
TERRY NEUMANN: And your backpack!
KARISSA NEUMANN: And shut the door!
TERRY NEUMANN: With me working and Tony working, we had different shifts and we weren’t all together all the time at the same time.
TONY NEUMANN: Karissa, where is it?
TERRY NEUMANN: How can he lose a backpack?
KARISSA NEUMANN: In the room.
TERRY NEUMANN: Daniel started getting very quiet, and he kept to himself a lot. And his attitude just changed a little bit. You know, he got really distant.
[with guidance counselor] Daniel, he’s still having problems with his homework.
GUIDANCE COUNSELOR: I’m sure that Daniel is dealing with the stress of your relationship with Tony, and you know, the whole work issue. You’re working. Some kids almost blame themselves for what’s going on in a family, you know, and that— they have to realize this is a situation that’s a tough situation for the whole family. Everybody’s doing the best they can. You love him. You’re there for him and you’ll always be there for him.
TERRY NEUMANN: Right.
GUIDANCE COUNSELOR: A lot of our children here at school are getting themselves up in the morning, coming home to an empty house at night. Ideally, we would have a parent there to get a kid off and someone there to receive them when they come home at night. But that’s, you know, in the fairyland world, I guess. And you know, we do want we have to do to survive.
TEACHER: Danny Neumann?
DANIEL NEUMANN: Period at the end.
TEACHER: Period at the end.
BILL MOYERS: Even as working people like the Neumanns were just hanging on, the new economy was on the upswing. The stock market was on the rise, and for investors, the good times were roaring back.
CLAUDE STANLEY: [preaching] Thank you. Hallelujah! Yes, Lord, we thank you this morning. Lord, we thank you how you provide for us, how you make ways out of no way. Lord, we thank you this morning!
BILL MOYERS: Claude Stanley served his church as a lay minister on Sundays.
CLAUDE STANLEY: We thank you, Lord, for your goodness. And thank you, Lord, for your kindness, Lord!
BILL MOYERS: The rest of the week, he was on his hands and knees. By 1993, Claude had been promoted to foreman of the waterproofing crew, which paid him less than a dollar more an hour.
CLAUDE STANLEY: Factory job, you’re making $14 an hour. This job, you’re cutting that in half. You’re only making— you make about $7. Yeah, you might get some bonuses here and there, but— incentives, but ain’t that great.
JACKIE STANLEY: I think he made about 35, 40 at Smith.
CLAUDE STANLEY: At Smith, yeah.
JACKIE STANLEY: And I made 35 and 40.
CLAUDE STANLEY: At Briggs.
JACKIE STANLEY: And that’s— so we’re about half of that. If we did— made what we made at Briggs and Smith right now, we would be really well off. House would be paid for, car paid for. Kids at least would have some kind of college funds built up.
CLAUDE STANLEY: But we look on each other for our strength. You know, some days, she got bad days. Some days, I have bad days. But like, when— if I’m not producing, she’s producing. You know, when I can’t— you know, I do, she do, I do. We try to find a way to make ends meet. You got some families probably say, how do we make it? You know, how do we make it, you know?
JACKIE STANLEY: We don’t even know! [laughter]
CLAUDE STANLEY: How do you make it, you know?
JACKIE STANLEY: We just keep holding on. You know, we shop. We shop. I found out that there are grocery stores here that have food half-price on Mondays. We rummage.
[in second-hand store] Oh, my goodness, some Guess jeans. Omega! These are $70 in the store. Look at that!
I come here because I work with a lot of people every day, they come in the offices from the cologne to the shoes, they look gorgeous. And I can’t afford what they wear.
For $24, this one I want. This is for work.
My accessories that I wear, they’re, like, $5, $10 to $20 earrings, I pay 99 cents.
OMEGA STANLEY: This is something you would wear, probably.
JACKIE STANLEY: Something I would wear? No. I think Elvis Presley would wear it. [laughs] No, I wouldn’t wear that.
Nobody wants to be around somebody that doesn’t have theirselves together. Even if you have to, as one broker wrote to me and said, “Fake it until you make it.” And that’s what we do in the Stanley household. We wear exactly what the people on Lake Drive wear.
JACKIE STANLEY: [showing house] That’s the very same house. Are you planning on keeping the hedges on there?
BILL MOYERS: For Jackie, the home sales came frequently enough. It was the pay that was the problem.
JACKIE STANLEY: With my kind of work that I do, which is real estate, I get paid on commission. It goes up and down. And it’s rough.
BILL MOYERS: Jackie was just one of the agents handling this sale and had to split the commission.
JACKIE STANLEY: [to client] Don’t go in the back hallway. The dog’s there.
BILL MOYERS: After also paying a percentage of her share to her employer, she figured to clear about $1,000.
JACKIE STANLEY: If we’re going to do the taxes, too, then you also have to remember they take the 28 percent out of the $1,000 that you make. So it’s— you’re down again.
BILL MOYERS: She reckoned that if she opened her own office, she could keep a larger share of the commissions.
JACKIE STANLEY: I’ve set goals at what I want to do. And I plan on going all the way with it because I’ve got to come out of the hole somewhere. That’s it.
And there’s something that I always say, “So a man thinketh, so is he.” 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.
BILL MOYERS: As she persevered in 1993, her neighborhood seemed to be coming apart at the seams.
JACKIE STANLEY: Even on this street, one block west of my house, just about every door here has the steel doors. There was “Kill you” written on the back of my fence— “if you don’t join the gangs”— to my oldest son, Keith.
BILL MOYERS: Just blocks from her house, Jackie’s uncle was murdered by an intruder.
JACKIE STANLEY: All I can tell them is keep trying. Every day, I have to encourage myself and I have to encourage them. Many times, Keith has said to me, “What’s the use, Mom?” He did a 3.5. What does it matter? And I said, “You’ve got to keep going.”
The other day, we was— the snow was heavy and we were out shoveling snow. And someone stood at the window and said, “Look at your family. It’s perfect.” And they called us the Beaver family. I know they meant to say Cleaver. But— and I said— they said, “We see you together all the time.” It looks good. But it looks good.
BILL MOYERS: Two years later, in 1995, getting a job wasn’t the problem anymore in Milwaukee. There was even a shortage of skilled labor.
NEWSCASTER: Employers in some parts of the state say they can’t find enough qualified workers, and Governor Thompson announced what he calls Operation Hire to address those shortages.
BILL MOYERS: The problem still was that jobs often didn’t pay enough. Like millions of others, the Neumann family now had to have a second full-time income to make it. And Terry Neumann was pulling one in, and proud to be doing so.
TERRY NEUMANN: I have a new job. I’m a driver and a guard and a messenger. My hourly pay right now is $7.50 to start. It has very good insurance benefits, which my husband doesn’t have. He gets more money and less benefits. And I’ve got less money and better benefits. So hopefully, between the two of us—
TONY NEUMANN: It kind of works out.
TERRY NEUMANN: Yeah. I get a lot of looks from a lot of truck drivers, a lot of double takes that, “Wow, look at that.” Yeah. I love it. I think it’s great, you know?
BILL MOYERS, Correspondent: [on camera] Working?
TERRY NEUMANN: Working, yeah. And having the power behind the big truck, you know? I like it.
BILL MOYERS: The power behind the big truck?
TERRY NEUMANN: Yeah. I get a lot more looks than sitting in the kitchen, cooking muffins. [laughter]
BILL MOYERS: I remember your telling us a couple of years ago how important it was that as a mother, you were home with the kids. And you know, Daniel was having a few difficulties then—
TERRY NEUMANN: Right.
BILL MOYERS: —approaching teenage years.
TERRY NEUMANN: Right.
BILL MOYERS: You just felt it was best—
TERRY NEUMANN: Right.
BILL MOYERS: —if you could be here.
TERRY NEUMANN: I still feel that way, but under the circumstances— we’re put into a situation we don’t have a choice.
[www.pbs.org: Watch on line]
ADAM NEUMANN: You got any homework?
KARISSA NEUMANN: Yeah, I got a lot. I got this little worksheet. I got a couple other things, I think.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The Neumanns now made enough from their combined income to meet their expenses. But the kids were coming home to an empty house.
KARISSA NEUMANN: She probably thinks about us and stuff, how we’re doing at home, gets a little worried if we’re OK and if we made it home.
BILL MOYERS: [on camera] What about the neighborhood? You’re not the only family around, I guess, where both husband and wife are working?
TERRY NEUMANN: No.
BILL MOYERS: Where kids are coming home by themselves?
TONY NEUMANN: There’s a lot of kids around here that are like that. There’s quite a bit of commotion as far as the kids that are around here doing pretty much what they want.
TERRY NEUMANN: Because they’re not supervised.
TONY NEUMANN: Yeah, they’re never supervised.
TERRY NEUMANN: The parents aren’t here to supervise them, and that’s the reason why you have so much teenage shenanigans or—
TONY NEUMANN: Yeah, violence.
TERRY NEUMANN: That’s what I’m worried about. I want my kids to—
TONY NEUMANN: Grow up to be good kids.
TERRY NEUMANN: Yeah. I want good children.
BILL MOYERS: So you’re betting on the fact that the kids will come through without you being here.
TERRY NEUMANN: I’ve tried to bring them up right and to teach them right from wrong. And I’m just hoping that they will carry these values through all of this. I hope they’ve learned something from this, how hard it is and how difficult it is and how everybody needs to make sacrifices, including them. This is how it is, and this is what we have to do in order to get through this and make it.
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BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] In the Stanley household in 1995, oldest son Keith reached a milestone, becoming the first man on either side of his family to graduate high school.
KEITH STANLEY: Oh, Mommy!
JACKIE STANLEY: [weeping] I’ve been talking for years, and I can’t talk now! You’re the first one.
GRADUATION ANNOUNCER: Keith Kenyatta Stanley.
JACKIE STANLEY: Yay! That’s my boy!
BILL MOYERS: He was heading into an uncertain economy, but Keith was determined to make it. That meant college. And in the fall, he enrolled at Alabama State University.
[on camera] How do you afford to keep Keith in college?
JACKIE STANLEY: I negotiated two transactions and closed them the day before he left. And you’re talking about a prayer!
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Jackie’s commissions only paid for part of the tuition. They would have to find the balance somehow.
[on camera] What does it take you a year down there for him?
JACKIE STANLEY: It’s $7,000 a year.
[on the phone] Keith? Hi. How’re you doing?
BILL MOYERS: Is he going to be able to make it this year?
JACKIE STANLEY: I just received a letter that I have to pay $1,300 now, or Keith will have to be put out in 48 hours.
[on the phone] We were concerned about this letter that came from your school.
But again, God came through, again! Keith had applied for a lot of charge cards before he left.
We came up with something. Oh, that’s so sweet. I can tell you’ve been down South a long time. You’re saying “Yes, ma’am.” Your Discover card came in. I called the Discover card people, and I told them we wanted a cash advance.
BILL MOYERS: Most people, when they pray, expect God to give them a miracle. You— what you got was a $1,000 credit with 18 percent interest rate.
JACKIE STANLEY: But it’ll tide me over until I can get the miracle.
So then this semester is taken care of. You hear me? All right. I love you.
It’s called rob Peter to pay Paul. And I’m robbing Peter so much that Peter is just standing there.
Send it to the bank.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The Stanleys were like millions of others trying to survive the good times of the ‘90s. Living on credit became a way of life. Over that decade, credit card debt for the average American family increased by 53 percent. For low-income families, it was 184 percent.
And the paychecks weren’t getting any bigger. Claude Stanley was making about the same in ‘95 as he had been two years earlier. As a supervisor, he did have modest health benefits. Those he supervised, they weren’t so lucky.
[on camera] What do these guys do for health care?
CLAUDE STANLEY: There’s no benefits. That’s the main thing, no benefits.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] When crisis hit, Claude’s benefits proved insufficient. A serious lung infection required an extended stay in the hospital and kept him out of work for two months.
When we next saw him, it was 1998. He told us the family faced uncovered medical bills approaching some $30,000, $30,000 they didn’t have.
CLAUDE STANLEY: It will be rough, you know? It’ll hit us financially. But all we do is just— you know, we depend on the Lord to make a way for us, but we ain’t going to stop living, you know? We’ve got to keep moving, keep going.
KLAUDALE STANLEY: Welcome to Burger King. Can I take your order, sir?
BILL MOYERS: The growing family debt meant that paying for college for their younger children was out of the question. Omega was still in high school, but the twins had graduated. Claude, Jr., was working odd jobs, including doing some modeling. His twin, Klaudale, took a different route. He joined the Navy.
KLAUDALE STANLEY: I, Klaudale Lamar Stanley, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend—
BILL MOYERS: He went through basic training in Illinois—
KLAUDALE STANLEY: [chanting with other recruits] Six more days, and we’ll be through!
BILL MOYERS: —and would soon be stationed in Washington, D.C., at the Pentagon.
KLAUDALE STANLEY: [on the phone] Navy Washington operator 30. How may I assist you?
BILL MOYERS: Older brother Keith, meanwhile, was now a senior at Alabama State and on his own financially. He had some aid and worked two jobs, as a resident assistant in his dorm and the organist at his church. But when we visited in 1999, we found him on the verge of being kicked out for nonpayment.
KEITH STANLEY: So what I do usually is, I just have to go inside the credit card and pay for it through credit cards, you know? And that’s the only way I can do it, you know? That’s— and if that’s what it takes to stay in school, that’s what I’m going to do to stay in school. My current balance for this credit card is $2,574.68. The interest on this is— I believe it’s 23, close to 24 percent.
[looking at credit card advertisement] “No fee first year. Apply now.” They’re everywhere.
BILL MOYERS: Back home in Milwaukee, Keith’s parents had decided to strike out on their own, to become entrepreneurs. Borrowing against their home, they bought a Central City office building where Jackie could start her own real estate firm and Claude could set up shop as a home inspector.
CLAUDE STANLEY: [preaching] We’re talking about those, amen, that is so quick to get rich and quick to prosper and quick to go somewhere—
BILL MOYERS: They would use it on Sundays as a church. Claude had become an ordained pastor. Their faith remained as strong as their future seemed uncertain.
CLAUDE STANLEY: God is good, he’s good, he’s good, he’s good!
I got an article from USA Today where they said every person that’s going to retire is going to need at least a million dollars. [laughs]
BILL MOYERS: Across town, the Neumanns were trying to cope with the toll on family life exacted by their different hours and demands at work, especially since Tony was still mostly working the night shift.
TONY NEUMANN: It takes a little getting used to. It seems like you only get somewhere between four and six hours of real sleep, and you have to be able to live off of that.
KARISSA NEUMANN: Sometimes I like him to help me on homework, but since he’s on third shift, he can’t really help me a whole lot because he’s normally sleeping. And when we wake him up, he gets really irritable and kind of crabby.
TONY NEUMANN: I already told you, food is going to be off limits in your room if I see this!
KARISSA NEUMANN: The only time I get to see him is towards the time I’m going to bed. And that’s it. That’s when I have to ask him all my quick questions on if I can do stuff or I need him to sign papers for school. And then I normally go to bed right after that.
TONY NEUMANN: Actually, I would prefer to have a real life on first shift. I would really like to sit down and have a nice dinner with the family every day. I would really enjoy that.
Terry and I are never really together for any period of time. We’re not really getting along like we used to. We don’t sleep together anymore. It’s really— it stinks.
BILL MOYERS: The Neumanns began to see a family therapist.
KARISSA NEUMANN: I don’t like going to counseling because I don’t want to tell him my problems. It’s like he’s, “Hello, what are your problems?” [laughs] He never laughs! It’s so funny.
TERRY NEUMANN: Well, he’s serious. He wants to get to the root of the problem.
KARISSA NEUMANN: And Dad even said that we weren’t going to go to anymore. And then you guys scheduled another one. And I told the boys that we weren’t going to have any more, and they got all happy because the boys don’t like coming to these things, either.
BILL MOYERS: At decade’s end, Daniel, now 17, and Adam, 15, were in high school but having trouble focussing on their studies.
Terry left the armored car job for one that paid more, $15 an hour instead of $9. But her schedule was utterly unpredictable. Sometimes she worked from 4:00 in the morning to noon, and might have to come back the same evening and work the overnight. She was always on call to report to work on just two hours’ notice.
TERRY NEUMANN: By the time I get home, I’m, like, zonked out. I get tired.
BILL MOYERS: Terry and Tony finally made more combined than he had made working at Briggs a decade earlier. But despite all the hard work, these two American families had barely survived one of the most prosperous decades in our history.
State of the Union 2000
Pres. BILL CLINTON: We began the new century with over 20 million new jobs, the fastest economic growth in more than 30 years, the lowest unemployment rates in 30 years. We have built a new economy!
BILL MOYERS: It was 12 years before we came back to Milwaukee. We found a city still struggling, with over a quarter of its people living in poverty. Some people had done very well. Parts of the city had been splendidly rebuilt. And over the previous decade, more promises had been made.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: A future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy, and that is what we have. Unemployment is low. Inflation is low. Wages are rising. This economy is on the move.
BILL MOYERS: But the promises had come with a price— two costly wars, a soaring deficit, and a housing market boom and bust.
NEWSCASTER: [February 23, 2009] The Obama administration says it will spend billions to keep struggling home owners in their homes.
BILL MOYERS: American families had been hit by the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression.
NEWSCASTER: [May 29, 2012] We’re raised to believe that each generation can and will do better than the last. But is that really true?
BILL MOYERS: We wanted to know what had happened to the two American families we knew. We found Jackie Stanley outside her church, along with a grown-up Keith, now 35.
KEITH STANLEY: I never would have made it to college, never would have made it to college without Mom.
BILL MOYERS: But Jackie quickly confided that when we called her to see about filming again, she almost said no.
JACKIE STANLEY: I was telling Kathy I thought I was a failure. I really thought I was a failure because I didn’t do it. We went backwards.
BILL MOYERS: She said that after suffering some health problems, she had quit doing real estate altogether, that her dream of having her own office had come to nothing, that she hadn’t done enough to make it happen.
JACKIE STANLEY: And I don’t know. I really was ashamed.
CLAUDE STANLEY: [preaching] Sometimes we’re going to go through some things, praise God, and God ain’t going to bring it out like you think it ought to come out, the way you want it to come out.
BILL MOYERS: Turns out Claude’s entrepreneurial efforts hadn’t worked out, either.
CLAUDE STANLEY: You might be on your job sometime and you hear about a layoff going to happen. And you might go home and pray all week, saying, “Lord, don’t let that happen to this place. I want to keep my job.” And guess what? Guess what? You get laid off anyhow and the place close down. Guess what? You got to praise God anyhow! Glory to God. Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus. God is good.
BILL MOYERS: Now the couple was surviving on a job Claude had taken with the city of Milwaukee.
[on camera] How did you find the work with the city?
CLAUDE STANLEY: I was looking through the newspaper, and it said something about forestry department.
BILL MOYERS: Forestry?
CLAUDE STANLEY: During the summertime, I do forestry. I do work on the boulevards. All the boulevards you see out here, with the flowers, keep the flowers intact, the grass being cut.
BILL MOYERS: And the winter?
CLAUDE STANLEY: Right now, I’m in sanitation, OK, collecting garbage.
BILL MOYERS: That’s hard work.
CLAUDE STANLEY: Yes, it is, Bill. Yeah, it ain’t easy.
KEITH STANLEY: I think one of the biggest things I can say for my dad is just his work ethic. And I remember he helped me install a tile floor in my kitchen. I was tired by the end of the first day. My dad is on the ground, putting the tile in and showing me how to put the cement on the tile. And I was, like, “Man, this guy, he has all this strength.”
BILL MOYERS: And you’re how old now?
CLAUDE STANLEY: I’m almost 60 years old.
BILL MOYERS: How long do you think you can keep that up?
CLAUDE STANLEY: Not too long. [laughs] Not too long.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Claude is a member of a public union. He makes about $26,000 a year, plus some benefits. It’s one of a series of jobs he has had since we last saw him waterproofing basements and inspecting homes.
CLAUDE STANLEY: And you talking about doing other things in between, I had to work at the airport for two years.
BILL MOYERS: [on camera] Doing what?
CLAUDE STANLEY: I was working on the runway, directing the planes to come in, flag them down, stop, take the luggage to the tunnel, lifting baggage. And it was all kind of stuff at the airport I was doing.
BILL MOYERS: Was that a minimum wage job?
CLAUDE STANLEY: Definitely was minimum wage. When I worked out there, they cut our salary, I mean, down to nothing.
JACKIE STANLEY: He carried dead bodies, too. He worked at the hospital.
CLAUDE STANLEY: I was a security guard at Columbus Hospital. And at nighttime, if— it was like third shift, anybody passed away or died, we had to carry— put them on the elevator and carry them down to the refrigerator.
BILL MOYERS: The third shift is from when to when?
JACKIE STANLEY: Graveyard. [laughs]
CLAUDE STANLEY: From 11:00— from 12:00 o’clock at night to 7:00 in the morning.
BILL MOYERS: Once upon a time, when people got your age— and you’re much younger than I am, you’re almost 60— they started thinking seriously about retiring. But you’re not.
CLAUDE STANLEY: I can’t do that because the reason is, Bill, you can’t stay on a job long enough to retire. [laughs] You know, every job I have, I work seven years, OK, the place close down. You work somewhere else for another five years, they lay you off, they shut down. All the years I’ve been working, Bill, I could have retired right now.
BILL MOYERS: If you had—
CLAUDE STANLEY: Stayed at one job.
[www.pbs.org: More from the Stanleys & the Neumanns]
KEITH STANLEY: He will not be able to see the retirement, you know, that he was probably— would hope for when he was working at A.O. Smith. 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.
CLAUDE STANLEY: [to Jackie] I need to fill out my time sheet. I can do that.
JACKIE STANLEY: When I look at him early in the morning, he’s still doing it. He’s got that pretty young smile on his face and acting like nothing’s wrong. And every now and then, you’ll catch him exercising and humping his back and rubbing it .
One day, he told me— oh, God, here goes the tears. I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to cry. Here’s what he said. He had come in from work, and it was kind of cold. And he said, “By the time I get up, I’m just thawing out. My bones haven’t finished getting warm. I can’t keep doing this.”
TERRY NEUMANN: Hey, Dyl, are you in a good mood today? Dylan! He’s not in a very good mood. I think his bus drive was too long. And he’s getting antsy and he has to go potty.
BILL MOYERS: When we next met Terry Neumann, we found she had lost her warehouse job some five years before. She had searched unsuccessfully for a new warehouse or manufacturing position, but couldn’t find one.
So in 2008, she had retrained to become a nurse’s assistant and home health care aid. Now 49 years old, she was working part-time in a suburb just west of Milwaukee, taking care of a 16-year-old, Dylan Solper.
TERRY NEUMANN: Oh, I’ve been probably doing this for probably 19 months I’ve been here. What? You think that’s funny? What’s so funny, Dyl? He thinks he’s funny sometimes. He’ll put his feet up on me, and I’ll say, “I don’t want those stinky feet. I don’t want those stinky feet. I don’t want those stinky feet!”
The job paid, when I first started, $8 an hour, and now I’m getting $9 an hour. I’m at 24 hours a week.
Where’s Dylan? Where’s Dylan?
BILL MOYERS: [on camera] How do you survive on $9 an hour?
TERRY NEUMANN: You can’t. If you want a house and if you want that American dream, it’s impossible.
Here’s my paycheck. This is a two-week paycheck. So year to date— what are we talking here, November? That’s what I made, $9,646.89. That’s poverty.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] For Terry Neumann, survival has been difficult since the last time we saw her, and not just because of her paycheck. These days, she’s also going it alone.
[on camera] What happened to you and your husband?
TERRY NEUMANN: I think we just grew apart and went separate ways. And the love wasn’t there anymore. The trust wasn’t there anymore. It was just gone and dead. It was like a death.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Tony Neumann told us he had lost his factory job and had been doing construction and handyman work in and out of Milwaukee. He declined to talk on camera.
Terry, meanwhile, said she never gave up searching for a full-time job.
TERRY NEUMANN: I need more hours. That’s what I need. And I’m working on that.
KATHY SOLPER, Dylan’s mother: Dylan, we’re getting into our chair. Back up. Good job!
BILL MOYERS: Terry was working for a for-profit agency receiving money from Medicaid for Dylan’s care. Positions like hers are often part-time or temporary.
TERRY NEUMANN: [to Dylan] Are you ready? Huh? Are you ready?
BILL MOYERS: [on camera] You’re part-time?
TERRY NEUMANN: Yes. So they don’t have to pay for the benefits, vacation time, sick time, or health.
KATHY SOLPER: The amount of money that these caregivers make, it’s just sad. It’s sad. I don’t know how they— I don’t know how they live on it. And the only thing I can tell them is they’re angels.
BILL MOYERS: You kept the house at the time of the divorce. You were able to keep the house.
TERRY NEUMANN: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: You were determined to hold onto that house. That was your home.
TERRY NEUMANN: Oh, yeah. But I didn’t feel safe after a while.
BILL MOYERS: I remember when we were there, you were concerned about the growing rowdiness and violence in the neighborhood.
TERRY NEUMANN: It just got worse. I was waking up, let’s see, 2:00 o’clock in the morning with gunfire rounds going through the neighbor’s house.
BILL MOYERS: But you had nowhere else to go.
TERRY NEUMANN: Right.
[www.pbs.org: Milwaukee through the years]
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Terry had survived the wave of home foreclosures that hit some 16,000 Milwaukee property owners between 2008 and 2010. But by 2011, divorced and working part-time, she simply couldn’t afford to make her home payments anymore.
KATHY SOLPER: She was real quiet, and you know, I could tell that she was down. And I finally came to her and I said, “What’s going on? You know, you seem like you’re really down, like you’re really tired, like you’re exhausted, like you just have a really heavy— something’s heavy on your mind.” I said, “Is everything OK with your family?”
I think she felt embarrassed, which she shouldn’t have. I think that she didn’t feel like she wanted to talk about it. But as the summer went on, it was a horrible time for Terry.
TERRY NEUMANN: [reading] “Dear occupant. Please take notice, judgment foreclosure entered March 15, 2011, in the amount of $96,619.12. You are hereby notified that possession is demanded by J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, which now owns your property.”
BILL MOYERS: [on camera] How long did you stay in the house?
TERRY NEUMANN: I lived there for 24 years. They wanted $120,000 for the buyout of it. And I’m, like, “Where am I supposed to find that?” You know, so it goes into foreclosure, and you can sell it for, what, $30,000? I was, “Are you serious? You can’t lower my payments or my interest rates so I can stay in my house, but you’ll foreclose on it and then sell it for $30,000 or $40,000, whatever it was?”
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] With nowhere else to go, Terry moved in first with a relative, then with a friend.
TERRY NEUMANN: And I felt like a sense of failure because I’ve always been able to get back up on my feet. I’ve always found a way or the money to fix it. And I just couldn’t fix it anymore.
BILL MOYERS: At the time Terry lost her home, both her grown sons, Daniel and Adam, were living with her.
[on camera] Do you think they’re going to get their feet on the ground one day economically and be more secure than you and Tony were?
TERRY NEUMANN: I have my doubts.
SCOUT LEADER: Adam Neumann has passed uniform inspection.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Adam Neumann, Terry’s middle son, is now 28. We found him working for a lawn care company.
ADAM NEUMANN: I’ve been doing it for about a year now, and I like this job. It’s nice. I like being outside. Keeps me in shape. I get paid, like, 9 bucks an hour. It’s usually 40 hours a week. Right now, there’s no benefits or insurance. So that’s the downfall of the job.
BILL MOYERS: Adam, we learned, had dropped out of school in the 10th grade after fathering a daughter, who now lives with her mother.
ADAM NEUMANN: I wish I would have, you know, stayed in school and, you know, found something that I was good at, you know, for a stable job in that sense. But after I had my kid at a young age, I had to work and I couldn’t work and go to school at the same time.
BILL MOYERS: He lives just south of Milwaukee, in an apartment complex where he met his current girlfriend. They are expecting a child.
[on camera] This is your second child.
ADAM NEUMANN: Second.
BILL MOYERS: How old is the first one now?
ADAM NEUMANN: Eleven. And I live paycheck to paycheck, child support, rent, electric, food. But they still call me middle class, but I don’t— I don’t see that.
BILL MOYERS: Adam’s brother, Daniel, Terry’s oldest, is now 29. He’s an auto mechanic, currently unemployed.
DANIEL NEUMANN: [in class] I’ve seen it done before, too, where you fill up the syringe with the brake fluid—
BILL MOYERS: Like so many Milwaukeeans of the past few decades, including his father, Daniel was looking to upgrade his skills to help him get work. So he went back to school for retraining at one of the region’s many technical colleges, studying automotive technology.
TERRY NEUMANN: Daniel!
KARISSA NEUMANN: Daniel!
TERRY NEUMANN: Daniel! Look for your homework!
KARISSA NEUMANN: Get in here!
BILL MOYERS: We asked Daniel about the past, about the difficulties in his family that he had witnessed growing up.
DANIEL NEUMANN: I really wasn’t paying too much attention to it. I was busy with school and being a kid. None of that stuff really mattered to me, you know, because I didn’t know. But now that I’m older and all this, it makes sense. Now I’m going through the same thing.
BILL MOYERS: Daniel has three kids of his own to help support. They live with their mothers. He gets by with unemployment and state food assistance. He’s had no home since his mother lost the house and now lives with a friend. He says he will start his own auto repair shop when he gets out of school. And he knows how he’d like to run it.
DANIEL NEUMANN: What I see is, you know, you keep your employees happy, your company will grow. You know, if you keep treating your employees like crap, and you know, just keep taking from them just because you want to get richer and richer and pay them less, that’s not the way to go because, I mean, the economy is so bad right now, a lot of people don’t have money and stuff.
And the world is just going all downhill right now. All this stuff going on here in Milwaukee and all these shootings and all that— I mean, they just had another shooting out there, even in a nice neighborhood over there in Brookfield. I have my concealed carry I carry everywhere I go. You really don’t have to want to use it, but if you have to, you have something to protect yourself and your family and friends around you.
BILL MOYERS: [on camera] With this kind of economy that we have now— low-wage, no-benefit jobs— do you think that Dan and Adam have a shot at having— you know, raising a family, having a home?
TERRY NEUMANN: I don’t see them getting a home because they’re making— they’re just— they’re struggling from paycheck to paycheck. You know, I had the home before the job loss, but for them to try to save to get a home now, I don’t foresee that, plus raising kids.
BILL MOYERS: How about Karissa? How’s she doing? And she’s how old now?
TERRY NEUMANN: Twenty-six.
Then one of these. And then you need a business card to call Mommy up.
KARISSA NEUMANN: When I was younger, I just knew we didn’t have money, and money is how the world goes round.
DANIEL NEUMANN: You can’t buy anything yet! We don’t have enough money!
KARISSA NEUMANN: A lot of people have clothes every school year. They have a new pair of shoes or several pairs of shoes. And I decided when I was younger that I wanted to be able to say I have money in the bank.
BILL MOYERS: We found Karissa working for a hospital in the large Aurora chain. It’s one of the biggest employers in the region in one of the biggest economic growth sectors, health care. She has an associate’s degree and also recently took courses to get certified as a professional insurance coder.
KARISSA NEUMANN: I do the physician billing. So all the physician services, I do those.
BILL MOYERS: She earns about $15 an hour plus benefits. She supports herself and her husband, Anthony LeFebvre. He has an associate’s degree, but like so many others, is currently unemployed. He’s trying to start his own computer consulting business. Because they don’t earn enough to have a home of their own, they live with Anthony’s relatives.
ANTHONY LeFEBVRE: There’s a lot of people in the same boat as we are. My uncle down in Florida, he was in the real estate, selling million-dollar condos. I don’t think he’s doing too well.
KARISSA NEUMANN: No. I mean, he even lost the house he was living in. Drive around any neighborhood and see how many people are living in the houses to try to help support each other. There’s a lot of vacant houses. You know, a lot of people lost their houses, you know, my mom being one of them.
BILL MOYERS: We asked Terry to take us back to her old house.
TERRY NEUMANN: So this is it.
BILL MOYERS: The people living there invited us in.
KHOU HANG: We recently just got this place and— in early September, and so we just got it fixed up. It still— we still need a lot of repairs.
BILL MOYERS: Khou Hang and Lu Lao bought Terry’s house in a foreclosure sale for about $38,000.
TERRY NEUMANN: Can I take a look around?
LU LAO: Go right ahead.
TERRY NEUMANN: This was my room. And this was my spare room. And this is where my grandkids would sleep when they’d come to visit me. And then this was the other room that my granddaughter would stay in when she would come visit me.
BILL MOYERS: Jackie Stanley, serious about her community role as the pastor’s wife, tries to remain upbeat.
JACKIE STANLEY: Everything’s free, my dear!
BILL MOYERS: On this day, there was a charitable giveaway at their church.
JACKIE STANLEY: If anybody has a queen-size bed, I have a down comforter. We got furniture coming in just a bit.
We just went crazy. We can’t even finish getting rid of everything because every time get rid of a table or two, another table comes in.
Don’t be standing around looking. You better grab. Take this stuff!
BILL MOYERS: We went along to one of her volunteer projects, a drug and alcohol recovery group. The woman who had once told us you have to “fake it until you make it” was still spreading that gospel.
JACKIE STANLEY: And I’m going to show you the 45-degree angle walk. And women, I want you to hear this. Do not walk with your butt! When you want to be successful, when you step out— and don’t do those timid walks. That means— you know, it’s, like, whichever way the wind — No! I have somewhere to go. My name is J. Renee. You see that?
BILL MOYERS: We also went to school with her. She’s taking classes to get back into the real estate game.
JACKIE STANLEY: And I know I’m good. I can walk out here and I guarantee an Eskimo would buy some ice, even if I brought it out of my refrigerator. They’re going to buy it.
BILL MOYERS: But the private Jackie was less self-assured.
[on camera] Do you feel like a failure today?
JACKIE STANLEY: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: Claude, do you think she’s a failure?
CLAUDE STANLEY: No. She’s not a failure.
JACKIE STANLEY: He’ll always say that.
CLAUDE STANLEY: You’re not a failure. You know, in this day and age, you raise five kids, that’s success — get jobs and make their own decisions.
JACKIE STANLEY: But even the Bible says leave heirs. You got to— you must leave something. You know—
BILL MOYERS: Do you think your children feel that you’re a failure?
JACKIE STANLEY: I don’t think my children— I think they love me enough not to tell me if they did feel it.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The Stanley kids are all grown up now. The oldest, Nicole, is in Virginia, working for a county clerk’s office. The youngest daughter, Omega, a single mother of a 10-year old, recently lost her job at a Milwaukee call center and is looking for another.
INTERVIEWER: How much money would you like to make when you grow up?
CLAUDE STANLEY, Jr.: Probably about a hundred million, something like that.
BILL MOYERS: One of the twins, Claude, is also looking for work.
KLAUDALE STANLEY: That makes me want to do more, a lot more.
BILL MOYERS: The other, Klaudale, left the Navy in 2011 and came back to Milwaukee to look for a job. But he found that opportunities were better elsewhere. He got a job with a private contractor in Afghanistan.
[on camera] What does it say to you that he can make more money employed by a military contractor in Afghanistan than he can make here at home in Milwaukee?
CLAUDE STANLEY: It says something.
JACKIE STANLEY: It’s sad.
CLAUDE STANLEY: Yeah. You’ve got to run out of this country to go somewhere to make some more money. That’s— that’s crazy. And we’re supposed to be the richest country? That ain’t— that ain’t— that don’t sound too good, Bill.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] We went to Milwaukee’s city hall to find the family’s one college graduate. Keith Stanley earns about $45,000 a year as an assistant to the Common Council president, Alderman Willie Hines.
WILLIE HINES, Milwaukee Alderman: He’s been on staff now about a year-and-a-half or two or so. And he’s highly respected. He’s a man of integrity.
BILL MOYERS: Hines’s district is in Milwaukee’s Central City, near where Keith grew up.
KEITH STANLEY: Neil, how’s that thing going? How’s it been going with you?
BILL MOYERS: Despite government and private efforts to bring jobs back here, Milwaukee’s jobless rate among African-American men hovers at around 50 percent.
KEITH STANLEY: [on the phone] Anyway, if you can, give me a call. This is Keith Stanley with Alderman Willie Hines’s office.
We do get the calls about jobs. They’re looking for a job. “I need a job.” Sometimes it’s difficult to have that conversation with them because I myself, I’m in no position to offer a job. And my boss— we— that’s just— we’re policy makers. My heart goes out to them because I know I can share that same story with them. I can understand their pain.
Now, they may not want to hear that. A lot of times, you know, “Oh, you’re working at the City and you don’t understand.” I get lots of those, and I can stop and say, “No, I definitely understand.” You know, I definitely understand dealing with struggle when, you know, your parents just don’t have enough.
My parents spent a lot of time and energy in us and making us who we are. You know, there are people that look like me, that live where I live, and who are now dealing with situations and struggles that I have never have seen. I’ve never seen the inside of a jail. I can’t tell you what a gun looks like. I don’t know what drugs or even alcohol looks like. And I have to give all that credit to my dad along with my mom. And they put the fear of God in us. You know, you have to work hard. You have to look people in the eye.
BILL MOYERS: [on camera] Tell me about Keith.
JACKIE STANLEY: He’s gone far. He’s beyond our expectations. But Keith has told me a lot of times, “Mom, I don’t want to be like you and Dad.
BILL MOYERS: Meaning?
JACKIE STANLEY: Bill, when it’s time to eat, they want to eat. They don’t want to do like Dad and I and start, you know, saying— making excuses why you’re not hungry.
We’re going to keep filling the racks. Go by color, not by size.
KEITH STANLEY: I’m inspired by my parents, but that’s also made me make a lot of tough decisions where I say, “I’m not going to make those decisions because I don’t want that to affect my life.”
CLAUDE STANLEY: Look for the blue or look for the brown.
BILL MOYERS: One of the decisions Keith has made is to hold off on getting married and having kids.
KEITH STANLEY: I want to make sure I can control my destiny, and that’s including not having children at a certain age. I would love to say I want to bring in a child in the world, but until I have myself together, I’m confident and believe that I have myself together— and people say there’s no perfect time to have a kid. I know that, but there’s been too many struggles I saw.
And for me, it’s like, “Can I make that sacrifice?” And if I do, I— man, they— maybe— maybe one kid. Maybe a dog right now. That’s why I got Spike, so that’s it!
BILL MOYERS: Knowing what growing up without money is like, Keith takes extra jobs to make sure he’s never in the same fix. He’s a landlord, collecting rents on this building he bought just up the street from his parents’ storefront church. He also works nights and weekends as a videographer—
KEITH STANLEY: You can kind of restate the question in the answer—
BILL MOYERS: —shooting and editing public and private events. And he does have a young person to care for.
KEITH STANLEY: This big guy is my nephew, Kevin Joy.
BILL MOYERS: Kevin is the son of Keith’s older sister, Nicole. She sent Kevin from Virginia to Milwaukee with the hope of giving him a strong male role model.
KEITH STANLEY: He’s got a client. He’s been cutting the grass, watering the grass. It’s kind of amazing to see. We’ve got a whole ‘nother generation from just 20 years ago, when I was doing this and we had a business and we were cutting grass. So it’s kind of passing on those values, that same work ethic, making sure that he can get to work on time. He can take authority and he can— time management, that type of thing. “K.J., now, you know that’s— you know, you could be done with that by now.”
INTERVIEWER: But you do want to be a dad some day?
KEITH STANLEY: I think so. I think so. I think Kevin has given me a little light. Well, Kevin can— we’re not going to water. Yeah, we’re going to try to cut the grass. Don’t water it. Yeah, try to pull it. Get the lawn— I can help you out. Put a lawn mower out.
So Kevin has given me a little light to say maybe I can pour what little wisdom, what little nuggets I have. There’s not much there, but what I do have can put onto the next generation and say, “Listen, this is what it takes to survive.”
BILL MOYERS: [on camera] So Kevin, now it’s your turn, right? You’re how old?
KEVIN JOY, Keith’s Nephew: I’m 16.
BILL MOYERS: And what are your ambitions? What do you want to do with yourself?
KEVIN JOY: There’s nothing else I want to do but go to college.
BILL MOYERS: And what have you learned about your grandparents?
KEVIN JOY: Man, they’re just resilient. I mean, they’re the people that you look at, and you can— you can keep hitting them, knocking them down, breaking them to pieces, ripping them apart, burn ‘em, but they’ll still— they’ll still be there. They’re kind of indestructible.
CLAUDE STANLEY: [preaching] Sometimes, you’re going to go through some things to get where you’re trying to go. Do all that you can, but still praise God.
BILL MOYERS: How much has your faith been an anchor for you during this difficult time?
CLAUDE STANLEY: Oh, that’s a big anchor. That’s what gets me up in the morning, Bill. That’s what keeps me going. I believe that something’s going to happen.
BILL MOYERS: But you’ve had so many setbacks since I first met you.
CLAUDE STANLEY: That’s true.
BILL MOYERS: You were fighting hard after you lost those good-paying jobs.
CLAUDE STANLEY: That’s right.
BILL MOYERS: And you’ve been fighting ever since, and yet you still—
CLAUDE STANLEY: Still, Bill, still— praise the Lord, I still believe there’s something for us.
JACKIE STANLEY: And I would interject at saying, what else? We have no other choice.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] In early 2013, yet another American president set lofty goals for restoring the middle class.
Pres. BARACK OBAMA: We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. When the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship, our purpose endures, a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American!
BILL MOYERS: [on camera] What you’ve lost— your home, your husband, a livable, decent income— people say to me, “How does she keep going? Where does she get that spirit? How does she do it?”
TERRY NEUMANN: My grandfather always said when I was 14, you never let the devil win. Never let the devil win. I’m still determined. You know, I’m not going to give up.
BILL MOYERS: You think you’ll ever be financially secure?
TERRY NEUMANN: The way the economy is going, no, I don’t think anybody is going to be financially secure, truthfully.
BILL MOYERS: And you’re not even—
TERRY NEUMANN: And we’ll just work until we collapse and keel over and die.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] There’s a postscript to Terry Neumann’s story. She finally found herself a new full-time job, at a nursing home. She works the overnight shift, 11:00 PM until 7:00 in the morning. She earns $11.50 an hour plus benefits.
It’s not enough, she says, to ever think about buying another house of her own. Her hope now is someday to buy herself a spot in a trailer park.
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