Growing Up Poor in America – Documentary Review

By Alexandria Martinez

“Growing Up Poor in America” follows 3 families in the battleground state of Ohio as the COVID-19 pandemic amplifies their struggle to stay afloat. In early 2020, it was estimated that almost 12 million children in America were living in poverty — a burden disproportionately borne by Black and Latino kids. Then came the coronavirus. Director Jezza Neumann, who made 2012’s “Poor Kids,” once again delves into how poverty impacts children. As the pandemic continues, the presidential election approaches and America reckons with racism, FRONTLINE offers a powerful look at child poverty in the time of COVID-19 — told from the perspective of the children themselves. The film is supported by the WNET “Chasing the Dream” initiative.

Shawn is 13 years old, his mother, Crystal works at the Salvation Army Food Pantry, he fears his mother will catch the virus because of her health conditions. They live in a trailer provided by government assistance. Shawn has a younger sister who he helps take care of, because of his father’s absence he feels like a role model and father figure for her. “I mean, it’s a lot of pressure on me, but I try to do my best,” he says. He feels the need to protect his mother from his fears about the family’s struggle.

Kyah is 14 years old, her mother, Becky, and her older sister, Kelia, became homeless when her mother became unable to pay their rent because her job fell through due to the pandemic. They stay in a bedroom at a relative’s house. While her mother searches for a way to gaining 2 residence and still stay in Kyah’s school district. Her family lost many of their cherished possessions when they could no longer make payments to the storage facility holding their belongings. Kyah watches video tours of houses online, imagining that her family will one day have a home of their own. She said it helps her feel happier. “What makes me the saddest about all this is seeing my mom like this,” Kyah says. “I try not to show my feelings because I know it will be overwhelming and it makes things worse.”

Laikyen is twelve years old, her mother, Fantasy, works at a gas station to provide for Laikyen and her sister. She is thankful for the food pantry down the street, where in addition to helping keep her family from going hungry, her beloved “Miss Candy” helps her with her homework. “In my opinion my mom doesn’t get paid as much as she should, because my mom works hard and she deserves a little bit more,” Laikyen says.

As the pandemic continues and the country also reckons with issues of racism in the time of George Floyd’s death, the children share their worries and wishes about their futures. Some of them participate in protests calling for an end to racial injustice. “I think it does make it harder to get out of poverty,” Kyah says of racism towards Black people. “I actually am worried about the future, I just want us to be all good.” 

I think this documentary was a success. It definitely gave me a broader perspective on appreciating what you have. The way that poverty affected these families is very sad. I learned how COVID-19 and losing your job can really change the way you live. Now I know the importance of a savings account. Not only are more children experiencing poverty than before, the poorest children are getting poorer as well. Some children may suffer one or more deprivations and others experience none at all, therefore the average number of deprivations suffered per child can be used to assess how poor children are.

BIO: My name is Alexandria and I am a homeschooled teen from Oklahoma (Tornado Alley). I have been homeschooled for the past seven years. I spend my days playing basketball, reading, writing and studying psychology, as well as, true crime. I am the oldest of four kids and I have three preposterous but loveable younger brothers. I plan to graduate college and pursue a career in a field that involves both computer science and criminal justice. One of my favorite quotes; “One of the deep secrets in life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others.” – Lewis Carroll

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