Poverty in Mass Culture

Below is a list of short television series, documentaries, and films highlighting the issues that low-income Americans face. The list includes past, present and future segments and films that are dedicated to digging deeper into the issue of poverty and opportunity in America. We encourage you to submit suggestions to Spotlight by sending them to info@spotlightonpoverty.org.
povBusted: America’s Poverty Myths, Fall 2016
“Busted: America’s Poverty Myths” is a five-part series exploring how our understanding of the causes of poverty are formed not by facts, but by myths, media, and the tales of the American dream. Host Brooke Gladstone traveled to Ohio, a state that encompasses all types of poverty — rural, inner city, and rust belt — to hear from individuals who are poor how they got that way, and to understand, under current policies, why they are likely to stay that way.



The Raising of America, February 2016

The Raising of America is a five-part documentary that explores the question: Why are so many children in America faring so poorly? What are the consequences for the nation’s future? How might we, as a nation, do better? The series investigates these questions through different lenses: What does science tell us about the enduring importance of early life experiences on the brain and body? What it is like to be a parent today? And what policies and structures help or hinder the raising of healthy, happy and compassionate children?











DREAM ON, January 2016

DREAM ON features political comedian John Fugelsang as he retraces the journey of Alexis de Tocqueville, whose study of our young country in 1831 came to define America as a place where anyone could climb the ladder of economic opportunity. On this unique road trip, Fugelsang speaks with fast-food workers and retirees, undocumented immigrants and community organizers, inmates and entrepreneurs about their hopes, dreams and daily challenges. After decades of rising income inequality and declining social mobility, DREAM ON explores how the optimistic spirit of the American Dream that Tocqueville described nearly two-hundred years ago is faring in twenty-first-century America.


Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America, Fall 2015

Chasing the Dream is a multi-platform public media initiative that seeks to provide a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society: what life is like below the poverty line, its impact on our economic security and on our children, and what has worked to bring people out of poverty.

Band of Sisters, Spring 2013

Band of Sisters focuses on the life experiences and current-day stories of more than a dozen nuns. Many of them have been central agents in the great social movements of our time. The sisters belong to different congregations from across the United States.

Poor Kids, November 2012
PBS’ Frontline

Poor Kids, an hour-long documentary that aired in November of 2012 on PBS, took a close look at families hit hard by the recession from the perspective of three young girls. The documentary can be viewed here.

The Line, October 2012
The Line lifts up the stories of both “newly poor” Americans and those who were pushed into deeper poverty by the Great Recession. It follows stories of individuals such as a single father of three from the Chicago suburbs who was laid off from his banking job and is now a regular at the local food pantry, and a fisherman from the Gulf Coast who continues to struggle in the aftermath of the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina. The Line premiered in October 2012.

A Place at the Table,  Spring 2013
Participant Media

A Place at the Table  follows the stories of three low-income individuals in America. The film documents the ripple effect of hunger, showing how a lack of healthy food negatively impacts not only these individuals, but also the American economy and society as a whole.

American Winter, Spring 2013
Joe and Harry Gantz 
American Winter profiles eight families dealing with the Great Recession. It was funded in-part by a Kickstarter project, and  aims to humanize the difficult decisions being made in federal budget discussions around social services.

The Poverty Tour, October 2011
PBS, Tavis Smiley

The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience was the focus of a special five-episode series that aired on PBS in the fall of 2011. Each episode was devoted to video highlights from Tavis’ August 2011 18-city, 11-state poverty bus tour with his co-host on PRI’s Smiley & West radio show, Princeton professor Dr. Cornel West. Following each night’s highlights from the tour, Tavis also spoke with a leading anti-poverty advocate, including Feeding America CEO Vicki B. Escarra, Health and Human Services SecretaryKathleen Sebelius, economist Jeffrey Sachs and ethics and religion commentator Jim Wallis.
You can watch the series here

Waiting for Superman, January 2010
Davis Guggenheim, director; Lesley Chilcott, producer

Waiting for Superman depicts and analyzes the failing public school system in America. The documentary follows several students from low-income, inner city school systems across the U.S. through their quest to be accepted in to one of the few coveted charter school spots in their communities.