In this RT documentary, filmmakers visit homeless areas in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and St Louis. As a group, African Americans experience the highest levels of unemployment and poverty. This means they are disproportionately represented among America’s homeless.
In New York, RT interviews a homeless African American who has two masters degrees and worked 17 years as a marriage counselor. He became homeless after his wife died of breast cancer, which led him to a bout of psychotic depression and drug and alcohol abuse. He can’t obtain drug treatment owing to a history of violence associated with his mental illness.
In Los Angeles, filmmakers visit the now infamous tent city that has sprung up in Skid Row.
In Philadelphia, they visit the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, a privately run facility that serves three meals a day and runs a 180-bed shelter. Because 40% of Philadelphia residents are only two paychecks away from homelessness, they are full most nights and turn people away.
In St Louis, they interview the founder of Showers to the People. The latter converted a large box truck into a portable shower facility for the city’s homeless residents.
This Australian documentary challenges whether job growth in the US (25 million new jobs in ten years) really represents economic recovery. The film makes three important points: 1) the vast majority of new American jobs are minimum wage part-time jobs, 2) well-paid middle class jobs continue to vanish, and 3) approximately one-half of US workers live in poverty.
The film follows three families. The first, in Orlando Florida, consists of a single mother of three who works 70 hours a week for Dunkin’ Donuts and MacDonald’s. Earning $8 an hour, she and her family live in a cheap motel because they can’t afford rent. She sleeps 1-2 hours a night, and her mother-in-law provides childcare while she works.
The second family is a couple with two children who live in a homeless camp in the parking lot of a Seattle church. The wife works full-time as a cashier at Seattle Center, and her husband takes temporary construction jobs when he can find them. Most of the camp residents are employed workers with kids.
The third individual is a middle aged machinist in Erie Pennsylvania who has been just been laid off from General Electric Transport after 13 years. The factory is moving to Fort Worth Texas. GE anticipates cutting wages in half because Texas in a non-union state. In addition to losing millions of industrial jobs when manufacturers moved overseas in the eighties and nineties, the US lost an additional five million industrial jobs in the last 15 years.
The World According to AI – Episode 2 The Bias in the Machine
Al Jazeera (2019)
This documentary examines how drone algorithms the US military developed for the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen (see Civilian Drone Strikes: Targeted by Algorithm) are being rolled out by urban police. Because these law enforcement algorithms are based on faulty data, they disproportionately target the poor and minorities. Because these particular zip codes are already over-policed, they provide the vast majority of data used in creating new algorithms.
What the filmmakers find particularly alarming is that many of the same algorithms are used to make bail decisions, sentencing recommendations and credit scores, as well as determining eligibility for state housing and other benefits.
The filmmakers visit Skid Road, the second most policed area in the world, after Baghdad. Owing to the current housing crisis, it hosts a massive homeless population, most of whom are either Black or disabled. The reason Skid Row is so heavily policed is because Skid Row borders on the wealthy Los Angeles financial district. One Skid Row woman has been arrested 108 times for sitting or lying on the sidewalk.
The US military also uses Skid Row population to test new spy software.
This two-part documentary focuses on homelessness in the Japanese city of Osaka. When the Japanese economy collapsed in the 1990s, many older workers lost their jobs. Last year Osaka (pop 19 million) had 18,000 homeless, mostly men. It’s easier for women who lose their jobs to return to live with family.
Part One (How to be Homeless in Japan) focuses on an 63-year-old man who makes a living collecting aluminum cans to sell at a recycling center. His work day starts before dawn, and he makes roughly $8 a day. In Osaka, one of the most expensive cities in the world, this earns him two meals of day old rice and fish, a cup of tea and a cup of sake. His spends his afternoons in the library reading.
Part Two (Japanese Homeless Fight Back) focuses on organizing efforts by Osaka’s homeless to protect themselves and better meet their needs. In addition to setting up an immaculate tent city on the grounds of a national monument, a number of them run a charity that uses expired supermarket food to provide two hot meals a week for all Osaka’s street people.
It also features a march Osaka’s homeless organized to protest the death of a homeless man kicked to death by unemployed youth.
False Confessions: How Innocent People Confess to Crime in the US
Al Jazeera (2019)
This documentary is about powerful psychological techniques American cops use to pressure innocent suspects into making false confessions. It also interviews public interest attorneys who take on the arduous work of legally exonerating prisoners whose convictions result from false confessions. More than 25% of all wrongful convictions that are overturned are based on false confessions.
One of the most common tactics American police use to extract false confessions is to lie to suspects – usually by claiming evidence that conclusively establishes their guilt. In most countries, it’s illegal to lie to suspects in this way.
The documentary examines three convictions based on false confessions that have been successfully overturned. One, the infamous Central Part 5 case (see See Central Park 5: A Classic Case of Racist Law Enforcement ), was only overturned when the real perpetrator stepped forward and claimed responsibiliy. The oldest suspect in the Central Park 5 case spent 13 years in adult prison (including four years in solitary confinement) before he being proven innocent.
The documentary can’t be embedded for copyright reasons but can be viewed friend until April 10 at the Al Jazeera website: False Confessions
The final episodes of Hard Earned (“Fight for Fifteen” and “New Beginnings”) reveal mostly positive outcomes for the five families – in part due to their resourcefulness and in part (in my view) to extremely good luck.
Chicago: DJ loses his union job because it requires a car and he can’t afford the expense and upkeep. He finds a new job as field director for a voter mobilization campaign.
Montgomery: The couple finally find a house and mortgage they can afford and refurbish it to enable Elizabeth’s parents to move into their basement. They have been paying the $1700 mortgage on her parents’ home since her father developed cancer. Jose finally passes his math class and starts a part-time internship at a radio station to supplement his full time job at the courthouse.
Silicon valley: Hilton quits his Google job after he learns enough English to pass a food handlers exam. However he is forced to take a second job as a busboy to pay their medical bills and higher housing expenses (they have moved out of the garage into a house they share with another couple). His girlfriend takes a minimum wage job at a market.
Milwaukee: Percy finally lands a full time maintenance job that pays $11.25 and hour, and his wife, who has severe arthritis in her knees, is finally able to retire.
Evergreen Park: Emilia finally finds a good-paying waitress job and receives additional income from speaking tours about her struggle with drug and alcohol recovery.
Hard Earned episodes 3 and 4 (“Minimum Wage” and “Dreams Deferred”) follow the families introduced in the first two episodes (see Reality TV That Depicts Reality) as they make strenuous efforts to improve their life situation.
Chicago: DJ gets fed up with ongoing racial harassment (from his supervisors) he experiences at Walgreen’s and thinks strongly of joining the military. Fortunately his family dissuades him. He quits his Walgreen’s job and becomes a union organizer for the Fight for Fifteen Campaign* – where he makes twice what Walgreen’s paid him.
Montgomery: Jose and his girlfriend continue to move back and forth (on a weekly basis) between their parents’ homes when they fail to qualify for a mortgage on a new home. Jose struggles to pass a math class he needs to qualify for an associate degree in broadcasting.
Milwaukee: we learn that Percy and Marge have been forced to apply for bankruptcy to prevent their home from being foreclosed on. After 13 years of making payments on a 9% mortgage, they still owe the original $79,000 they borrowed.
Silicon Valley: Hilton, who works as a dishwasher for Google (through a temp agency), finds a better paying second job as an assistant restaurant manager. His girlfriend experiences pregnancy complications (which cost them $13,000) and loses her twins.
Evergreen Park. Emilia unsuccessfully applies for 48 better paying jobs in a month. Owing to the ongoing recession, the restaurant business is really slow. This drastically reduces her tips, which comprise over half her wages. (The Illinois minimum wage for restaurant workers is $4.95.) A friend helps her get a part-time evening job in telephone sales.
*Fight for Fifteen is a national campaign for a “living wage” of $15 an hour.