Daily Video

April 3, 2009

Working Hard for Little Money

In this video, NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels reports from Antioch, California, where a growing number of people are barely making a living whether or not they have a job. Working mother Heather Scharf recently lost her job at a mortgage company and took temporary work making less than half the income she used to make. With a daughter to support and bills to pay, Scharf has had to forgo her own health insurance because it is too expensive. Scharf is one of the many working poor who, in the midst of the recession, are struggling to make ends meet with their low wages. Alissa Friedman of the non-profit organization, Opportunity Junction, says that having a job does not necessarily mean that people make enough money. “These are folks who are working hard. They’re working 40 hours a week — maybe they’re working a second job on top of that — and they’re still not making enough to survive, to be self-sufficient. Here in the Antioch area, 36 percent of working families are not earning enough to meet all of their basic needs,” Friedman says.


“I started getting really depressed, just, you know — my daughter was noticing it. You know, I felt bad, because she was, like, ‘Mom, why are you sad?’ And you know, ‘Why aren’t you working?’ And I felt bad because, all of a sudden, I went from making so much money to living on unemployment.” – Heather Scharf

“We’re now seeing people coming through our doors who have really solid work histories, but who lost their jobs and can’t find another right now. We’re seeing people applying to our program who were homeowners, who were solidly in the middle class, and who have fallen out of the middle class.” – Alissa Friedman, Opportunity Junction

“These are people who – a lot of them had jobs. A lot of them are two-parent families. They now have been laid off, particularly from mortgage industries and banking industries. They’ve had unemployment. They’ve gone through their assets. And they come to us for help.” – Kareen Morgan, Contra Costa County Workforce Services

Warm Up Questions

What are some stereotypes about poor people?

How do you define poor? Middle-class? Rich? How is the recession affecting different classes?

Discussion Questions

1. What did you learn from this report?

2. What does it mean to be a member of the working poor? How does that make you feel about stereotypes about poverty? 3. Do you think that the government should help people who are struggling even though they have jobs? Why or why not? If yes, what should the government do to help people like Heather Scharf?

Additional Resources

Read the transcript

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