Picks and Pans Review: Living on the Edge

PBS (Tues., Dec. 12, 9 p.m. ET)


This grim Frontline documentary follows the declining fortunes of two blue-collar families, one White, one black, in Milwaukee. In each, the principal wage earner has been laid off from a lucrative manufacturing job as the industrial belt slides farther and farther south. We watch these clans over the course of five years as they struggle painfully to survive in the brave new service economy. As correspondent Bill Moyers points out, “The new economy is built on cheaper labor. Many of the new jobs offer only part-time work and no benefits, and they pay lower wages.” Despite remarkable work ethics, both sets of parents are soon fighting to keep their heads above water and to maintain their dignity in a deteriorating urban environment. The financial pinch is felt just as keenly by the children, who, with both parents forced to work, become classic latchkey kids.

Bruce Springsteen’s new album, The Ghost of Tom Joad, a brooding song cycle about society’s dispossessed, might well serve as the companion piece to this film, an unsparing and unsettling look at the American worker in the ’90s.

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