Hard Earned  takes an intimate look into the lives of five ordinary American families in the post-recession economy as they struggle to keep up with their financial demands while pursuing their dreams.


Emilia Stancati


Emilia works as a waitress in two different restaurants [Damon Hennessey/Kartemquin]

Emilia Stancati is a 50-year-old who waits tables six days a week in two different restaurants.

Earning a combined salary of $300 a week, it is a far cry from when she worked in the construction industry earning $80,000 a year.

After the 2008 economic crash, construction work dried up forcing Emilia to return to restaurant work, move in with her elderly father and rent out her house.

She constantly looks for better jobs and tries to re-invent herself one more time.

"I'm 50 years old and I'm tired of carrying trays and running and getting up at 4 o'clock in the morning and tired of always depending for my money and how other people feel about me."


DJ and Takita


DJ has joined the 'Fight for 15' campaign [Adam Singer/Kartemquin]

De'Jaun "DJ" Jackson and Takita Akins balance their $10.50 an hour jobs at Walgreens with the busy life of raising two young children in one of the largest cities in the US - Detroit.

Frustrated with his long working hours, DJ has joined the 'Fight for 15' campaign to raise wages for retail and fast food workers.

Takita supports his passion but fears repercussions against him at work for his activism. She knows they cannot afford for one of them to lose a job.

The series follows this young family as they combine idealism, faith, perseverance and laughter to find a better future for themselves and their children.

"I work for a company that's a billion-dollar company and not willing to give money. You make billions but you know, we doing all the leg-work and we haven't seen any of the pay."


Jose and Elizabeth


Army veteran Jose Merino hopes he will soon complete his associates degree [Brett Wiley/Kartemquin]

After years of unemployment following his army service in Iraq, Jose Merino recently found a job as a clerical worker, which he squeezes in around his final semester at a community college.

Living out of his parents' basement, he and his girlfriend - Elizabeth Bonta, cannot afford to stay in Montgomery County, where they were both born and raised.

With the cost of living 30 percent higher than the national average, and the couple burdened by Elizabeth's student loan, the series follows the young family as they navigate the ups and downs of buying a home and familial responsibilities.

"I just want to live the typical American dream. That's why my parents came here. I work, I work, I work. It's like there's no way out."


Hilton and Diana


Hilton and Diana live in a one-bedroom garage in a trailer park [Vicente Franco/Kartemquin]

Hilton Kennedy III works over 80 hours a week between his two jobs: washing dishes at cafe and as a cashier at a busy restaurant.

He lives in a one-bedroom garage in a trailer park with no heating or running water along with his girlfriend, Diana Gonzalez, who is pregnant with twins.

Hilton and Diana are among the Silicon Valley service workers, many of them immigrants, that provide food, cleaning, and security for the region's booming technology economy, but find it difficult to afford living in the area themselves.

The series follows the couple as they navigate the challenges of life in a new country, a personal tragedy, and the changing shape of their own American dream.


Percy and Beverly


Percy and Beverly work low-wage jobs to keep up with their mounting bills [Brad Lichtenstein/Kartemquin]

Percy and Beverly Evans have lived and worked their whole lives in Milwaukee, once a major centre of Midwest manufacturing, but now a city struggling to find its place in the new economy.

Despite reaching retirement age, Percy works night shifts as a janitor, earning $8 an hour.

Bev, a 65-year-old case manager, earns much less than in her previous position.

They recently filed for bankruptcy to stave off the possibility of foreclosure, and their reluctance to ask for help has prevented them from fully disclosing their financial situation to their children.

The series follows Percy and Bev as they struggle to hold onto their house, contend with health issues and plan for a retirement that looks much different from what they had anticipated.

"We worked all this time and we hoped to retire with some kind of benefits, some kind of respect. We don't get any respect; we're swept under the carpet."

Source: Al Jazeera