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New HBO Documentary Reveals Americans Left Out in the Cold

A new documentary created by Emmy Award–winning filmmakers Joe and Harry Gantz, creators of HBO’s Taxicab Confessions, shows the plight of families struggling in the aftermath of the worst U.S. recession in 80 years. Since the financial crisis, the wealthy have gotten wealthier, but millions of ordinary people who were hit with job loss, foreclosures, and vanished pensions -- often through no fault of their own – can barely make ends meet.  “American Winter,” scheduled to air on HBO March 18, gives them a face and a voice.

Raising a family under economic duress is a particularly grueling experience. “American Winter” takes us into the lives of eight families in Portland, Oregon who called the city’s 211 crisis hotline during the winter of 2011-12. When the family finances are in precarious balance, any emergency becomes a struggle for survival. When Shannon’s child gets a stomach condition and has to go to the hospital, the single mother is lost in a flurry of medical bills that her insurance won’t cover. Ben, whose job loss led to foreclosure, used to talk about dreams for the future with his wife. Now the dream is making it to tomorrow.

Politicians in Washington sing to the tune of their wealthy doners and focus on deficit hysteria rather than job creation and making sure that social insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare are protected from ill-advised cuts. “American Winter” puts a human face on the abstract numbers that circulate in their plans. The cruel, crass calculations of men like Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles are designed to thrown the burden of a Wall Street-driven crisis on people who simply want to put food on the table for their families and give their children some hope of a decent life. These people are not deadbeats. They hard-working, salt-of-the-earth individuals whose work ethic would put that of many politicians to shame.

Half of all Americans currently live in poverty or near-poverty, according to the most recent census data. They aren’t “those people” anymore. They are middle-class workers dealing with stagnant incomes. They are low-income folks whose paychecks are shrinking. They’re our neighbors, our loved ones, our colleagues. They’re us.

Portland’s City Commissioner Nick Fish (brother of Hamilton Fish, publisher of the Washington Spectator) understands that the problem is not one of individual laziness, as conservatives would have us believe, but of a capitalistic system which has been allowed to become predatory. “If capitalism is not regulated or checked,” explains Fish, “there is a harsh logic and it will always seek out the lowest costs, highest return, which is why we have historically viewed government as a check and a balance on that.”

Instead of checks and balances, we have financial institutions that are bigger and more dangerous than they were before the crisis – ticking time bombs that will one day explode and send millions more into misery if we can’t summon the will to restructure them.

“American Winter” should be required viewing in Washington. For additional information about on the film, click here.