Can America's Low-Wage Workers Still Achieve the American Dream?

Panelists included: Jason Perkins-Cohen, Executive Director of the Job Opportunities Task Force; Jo-Ann Williams, Human Resources Manager for the University of Maryland Medical Systems; Dwayne Drake, Sr., current Lead Tech Central Pharmacy at the University of Maryland Medical Center and former minimum-wage worker; and Anirban Basu, Chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group, Inc.

WBAL Investigative Reporter Jayne Miller moderated the discussion.


On September 19, 2006, JOTF co-sponsored a policy luncheon focusing on the challenges facing America’s low-wage working families and how communities, policymakers and business leaders can make a difference. The event featured a screening of “Waging a Living: Opportunities for Action,” a 26-minute policy version of a new documentary funded by the Annie E. Casey and Ford Foundations.

The film follows the lives of three low-income workers and their struggles to pay for health care, access continuing education, afford decent housing, and still make ends meet. Although these individuals work hard, they face numerous barriers to advancement and self-sufficiency. For Jean Reynolds, a single mother caring for a daughter with cancer, not even working overtime at her job as a Certified Nursing Assistant is enough to pay the family medical bills, much less leave her time to increase her education. Barbara Brooks, a single mother struggling to balance family and school, finds that the harder she works, the less public support she receives, and the more she must cut corners to get by. While Jerry Longoria works full time as a security guard in San Francisco, his wages cannot cover the high local cost of living, and his lack of skills leave him little hope for advancement. One in four American families face the challenges of being low-income, and the screening was one step in stimulating a local conversation around the issue.

Scot Spencer, Manager of Baltimore Relations at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, gave a welcoming speech to a crowd of nearly 200 attendees. U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings, the host of luncheon, followed with opening remarks. After the film, a panel discussion addressed the obstacles facing low-income workers and changes that can be made to help these families achieve the American Dream.

Co-sponsors of the luncheon included the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Maryland Public Television, the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture.

Click here for more information on the documentary “Waging a Living”.

If you would like a copy of the film please contact Jessica Traskey at (410) 234 8040.

With the high attendance numbers and interest of JOTF’s recent forum “Can America's Low-Wage Workers Still Achieve the American Dream?” JOTF have decided to take on the road the short 26 minute policy version of the documentary “Waging a Living: Opportunities for Action” with informal discussion.

For more information contact Melissa Chalmers Broome at (410) 234 8046.

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