Chattanooga resident Katrina Gilbert is one of 42 million women in the country living in poverty or balancing on the brink of indigence.
She married at 19 years old, but her husband’s addiction to painkillers destroyed their marriage and mangled their finances. During most of the documentary, Gilbert and her three children live in a small trailer.
She’s a certified nursing assistant who works-sometimes eight days straight and on holidays-for $9.49 an hour.
Gilbert has some help from the children’s father, but he has struggled to find work.
She’s one sick day, accident or paycheck away from disaster.
“I didn’t expect to be a single mom of three children,” Gilbert said in the HBO documentary “Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert.” “That was my biggest fear, but I am. And I’m trying to deal with it the best way I can.”
She works with elderly people in a nursing home. Sometimes, she has to physically lift them out of bed. She has to feed them or clean up after them. Other times, she has to comfort them because they feel alone.
“I love my job; I love the people that I care for. They are really close to me,” Gilbert said in an interview with Nooga.com last week. “And I like being there every day. But, emotionally, when you lose one, it tears you up. You try not to get close, but there’s no way you can’t not get close. There would be days when I lose one, and I just cry and cry. It can break you down [emotionally and physically].”
Gilbert recently got her first raise in two years-an increase of 14 cents an hour, according to the documentary.
“A roof over our head with heat-that’s all I can do,” she said in the documentary.
Filmmakers Shari Cookson and Nick Doob filmed the HBO documentary, which airs March 17.
Emmy Award-winning journalist, six-time New York Times bestselling author and niece of President John F. Kennedy, Maria Shriver is the executive producer of the film, which is being released shortly after her report about the financial struggles single mothers face.
Shriver is also the mother of four and has covered the shifting roles and changing needs of women.
She started exploring women’s issues in 2009 with the Center for American Progress.
Her latest report tells stories about women in poverty, such as Gilbert. She investigates why millions of American women are financially vulnerable. The report includes essays from issue experts and actors/musicians such as Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Eva Longoria.
Shriver worked with Chattanooga nonprofit Chambliss Center for Children on the report, which is called “The Shriver Report: A Women’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink.”
And it’s through the Chambliss Center that filmmakers and producers found Gilbert and her three children-Brooklynn, 8; Lydia, 6; and Trent, 4-all of whom benefit from the organization’s extended child care program.
The 24-hour day care and early education center primarily serve low-income single parents, Katie Harbison, vice president of development and administration with the Chambliss Center for Children, said.
Parents are charged on a sliding scale, and the 24-hour services allow parents to work any shifts they need to.
Other HBO airdates:
-March 17, 5 a.m.
-March 20, 4:45 p.m. and 12:30 a.m.
-March 23, 10:30 a.m.
-March 26, 11 a.m.
-March 29, 4:45 p.m.
-March 19, 8 p.m.
-March 22, 11:05 a.m.
-March 25, 7:50 a.m.
-March 31, 2 p.m.
There are about 300 children currently enrolled at the Chambliss Center and about 200 who are on a waiting list, Harbison also said.
Leaders there provide three meals a day, diapers, formula and education.
There aren’t many facilities like the Chambliss Center, Harbison said.
“We think Katrina is an amazing example of the struggles that so many of our parents are facing,” she said. “They are loving, caring parents who want the same for their child as anybody else. But they’ve gotten into a circumstance or were born into a circumstance that makes it 10 times harder.”
Shriver wrote an essay for part of the report, and she acknowledges that she’s never lived like Katrina.
But the fact is, one in three people in the U.S. do live with this kind of stress, struggle and anxiety every day. More than 100 million Americans either live near the brink of poverty or churn in and out of it, and nearly 70 percent of them are women and children.
Many of these women feel they are just a single incident-one broken bone, one broken-down car, one missed paycheck-away from the brink. And they’re not crazy to feel that way:
-Women are nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers in the country.
-More than 70 percent of low-wage workers get no paid sick days at all.
-Forty percent of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income.
-The median earnings of full-time female workers are still just 77 percent of the median earnings of their male counterparts.
This is the first postrecession recovery since 1970 in which women have continued to lose jobs while men have gained more than 1.1 million jobs.
Gilbert hopes she can go back to school, but she’s had trouble getting financial aid.
She recently got engaged to Chris, who is featured in the documentary and is also living paycheck to paycheck with children of his own.
She said her children are doing well, but if it weren’t for help from the Chambliss Center, struggles would be even more abundant.
Gilbert and Harbison hope the documentary spotlights the needs and starts conversations about solutions for women and families.
Harbison understands that some people think that programs such as those Chambliss offers might encourage people to be lazy or take advantage of the help.
“But what you have to understand is the majority of the people really do need help and deserve the help,” she said. “You can’t not provide it just for the few that are going to take advantage. It’s really important for us to continue helping.”
Gilbert said she would like to see the minimum wage raised. That would provide some relief, she said.
And she hopes that the film will help other families who are walking the tightrope, balancing between survival and defeat.
“I just want them to know that you may be going through a storm right now, but you’re going to get out of it,” she said. “Stay strong. Get independent. I want them to be inspired by the film. They can do it, too. They are not alone.”