Starting in summer 2010, when many hoped an era of recovery would begin, and continuing through the holiday season six months later, HARD TIMES: LOST ON LONG ISLAND spotlights the challenges facing highly skilled, well-educated Long Islanders who lost their jobs. Public relations professional Anne Strauss notes, "Being unemployed for two years is not just a financial loss. It's an emotional loss. It's a loss of friendships. People disappear. You can't socialize. It changes every facet of your life."
When both people in a couple suffer economic hardships, it can cause considerable strain on their relationship, as Heather and David Hartstein testify. "Things between Heather and I became really difficult," admits David. "I didn't know how to handle and deal and feel emotion." Compounding their crisis, the bank rejected their application for a loan modification on the same day their son tested positive for Down syndrome. They subsequently filed for bankruptcy. "That was when we decided...we're done with all this," explains Heather.
Families featured in HARD TIMES: LOST ON LONG ISLAND include:
Alan Fromm and his wife Susan, who grew up in Brooklyn, met at Brooklyn College and moved to Plainview, where they raised two children. He has a master's degree and spent his career in corporate education and training, but lost his job in summer 2009. No stranger to hardships, Alan was struck by lightning at age 15, had just started a new job as at the World Trade Center when it was first bombed and, most recently, was in the World Trade Center when it collapsed. At the time of filming, he has been out of work for more than a year and despairs for his family's future after falling behind on his mortgage.
Anne and Mel Strauss, who grew up on Long Island, and met commuting on the Long Island Railroad. She works in public relations and was laid off in summer 2008; he has a master's degree in operations research and worked in finance before moving into the mortgage industry. They separate when his stopgap commission-only mortgage broker job moves him to Albany, three hours away. In 1999, Mel was diagnosed with cancer and had a great support system, but when they both lost their jobs, people were nervous and disappeared. As Anne notes, "Having cancer was easier than being unemployed."
Nick Puccio, who grew up in Queens, and his wife Regina, who grew up in Brooklyn. They met at Merrill Lynch, where he spent the bulk of his Wall Street career. He was laid off from an asset-management firm owned by Lehman Brothers after Lehman's collapse and has been unemployed since. Facing foreclosure, Regina considers selling her engagement ring for cash and visits a local food pantry.
Heather and David Hartstein, who were living a fairy-tale life "right down to the white picket fence." They married right after college, settling back in Long Island, where Heather worked as a teacher and David as a chiropractor. Together, they face a series of job-related crises that jeopardize their home and marriage.
HARD TIMES: LOST ON LONG ISLAND belies the notion that unemployed people are lazy or complacently collecting unemployment checks. Like Alan Fromm, many wake up every morning and pound the pavement looking for work. "I'm not sitting home and doing nothing," he says. "A day does not go by that I'm not looking for work."
Complicating matters is a legislative change that could shorten New York unemployment benefits from the current 99 weeks. For many people in their 50s, prospects are especially dim at a time when out-of-work job seekers are often told by employers not to apply. At a diner where unemployed locals meet to find support, Alan states FedEx turned him down when he applied to drive a truck to deliver holiday packages, saying, "They told me I was overqualified. I just want to drive a truck!"
While they continue to search for jobs, some have been out of work so long that they are no longer eligible to receive benefits and thus aren't even included in monthly unemployment statistics.
Anne says, "I don't want to be helped. I want to just help myself, but what we want are jobs."
HARD TIMES: LOST ON LONG ISLAND is the third in a series of HBO documentaries by Marc Levin and Daphne Pinkerson on the human impact of the economy. "Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags" (2009) examined the rise and fall of New York City's garment industry, while "Triangle: Remembering the Fire" (2011), winner of a duPont-Columbia Award, looked back at one of the worst industrial catastrophes in U.S. history, the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York City. Also winners of several other major awards, Levin and Pinkerson received an Emmy® for their 1999 HBO documentary "Thug Life in D.C."
HARD TIMES: LOST ON LONG ISLAND was directed and produced by Marc Levin; produced by Daphne Pinkerson; co-producers, Kara Rozansky & Jennifer Weiss; edited by Christopher K. Walker; director of photography, Daniel B. Levin. For HBO: senior producer, Nancy Abraham; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.