Waging a Living

The gap between the rich and the poor is growing. The middle class is shrinking, and in large urban areas, housing prices are astronomical. For people on minimum wage, survival is nearly impossible. Waging a Living, directed by Robert Weisberg (Aging Out), Pamela Harris, Frances Reid (Long Night's Journey Into Day) and Edward Rosenstein aims to show how difficult it is to live on low wages while maintaining a decent standard of living. They follow four people in California, New York, and New Jersey as they try to live on meager earnings.

Waging a Living works as a portrait of these four people. It works on a purely emotional level. Weisberg and his co-directors do a good job of peering into their lives and showing what can happen when there is a profound lack of funds. The most interesting aspect about these four people is that while they have little money, they are more than willing to help others. Jerry Longoria in San Francisco works as a security guard for $12/hour. He has two children across the country he hasn't seen in years. Saving up the funds to buy a ticket is near impossible given where he lives. Yet, Longoria still finds the time to volunteer and has changed his life for the better over the past few years. Mary Venittelli's life began to go downhill once she began her divorce.  She supports her three children with a low-paying waitressing job, and drives to food pantries further away so she will not see anybody she knows. 

The most frustrating story belongs to Barbara Brooks of New York.  She is counselor and single mother of five children.  Her income is very limited so she relies on Medicaid, food stamps, and other government assistance.  Brooks realizes that she has the power to do something about her life and gets a higher-paying job and begins taking classes.  However, her new earnings disqualify her from some of her aid.  The amount she loses is more than her gains in salary.  Brooks calls this "hustling backwards."  This only shows how difficult it can be for even highly motivated people to move into a higher economic group.  The deck is heavily stacked against them.  Jean Reynolds has the most moving story, and the worst circumstances.  She supports three children, one of whom has cancer, and two grandchildren.  She works as a nurse, but her wages are minimal and she needs large amounts of overtime just to get by.  Worse, she is close to being evicted from her house.

It is difficult not to empathize with these four people and their families.  Weisberg does a good job of presenting their situation plainly, with a minimum of preaching.  He peppers in small facts and statistics about the working poor at various points in Waging a Living.  The issue is that while he makes an effective emotional plea, he doesn't provide any answers.  Aside from little factoids, Weisberg and his co-directors not give much information.  He mentions a living wage, but anybody who doesn't know what one is will not receive an explanation.  Worse is how Waging a Living ends.  Everybody wants a happy ending, but it does not serve his argument here.  The most effective way for this movie to end would be the worst - people losing their houses, jobs, cars and any other possession.  This would be a powerful end and drive home the point, but without giving the ending away, this is not what happens.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 25 minutes, Not Rated but contains some language, probably a PG-13, possibly an R.

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