KTCA, Channel 2, will broadcast “On the Outside Looking In” at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 21. The documentary, produced by faculty, staff and students from the University of St. Thomas, will focus on a number of Minnesota and Wisconsin families who continue to struggle in poverty in the midst of the largest expansion of the U.S. economy since World War II.
The documentary examines the struggle that families, especially children, must endure while adults search for work and financial subsistence in the new welfare era. “We began this film project in response to what we saw as some troubling trends in this country,” said Steven Lybrand, a member of the sociology faculty at St. Thomas and co-producer of “On the Outside Looking In.”
“We found that a turbo charged economy was generating extraordinary wealth for fewer and fewer individuals, while the most vulnerable — poor parents and their children — were seeing their benefits reduced as a result of welfare ‘reform,’” said Lybrand, who also has produced a documentary about the struggle of first-generation Hmong immigrants living in Minnesota.
Among those profiled by “On the Outside Looking In” are:
Troy Windom – Troy, who was 12 when the filming began, speaks about how violence in his neighborhood makes him fear for the safety of his family. In the beginning he has many dreams. Those dreams fade, however, as his mother, Betty, struggles to overcome a lack of money when her Social Security disability is cut. On Labor Day, 1999, the family living below Troy and his mother has a fire that burns both families out of their apartments.
Pammala Vance – Pammala is working at a Madison, Wis., McDonald’s and is viewed as a hopeful participant in Wisconsin’s welfare-to-work program. She is making $6 an hour and struggles to maintain what will soon be a family of five (her second-oldest daughter is expecting) in a $585-a-month apartment. Pammala and a school social worker talk about the shortcomings of the new welfare program. While the state has seen a dramatic drop in welfare rolls, Pammala and her family find themselves living at a local campground for several months after their aid was cut off for a seemingly minor rule violation.
Chad Thompson – Chad, 25, struggles to keep his two children out of foster homes, an experience that he had to endure as a child. For awhile he makes it, keeping his children with him in an apartment in New Brighton. Within months, however, he is evicted from his apartment; he loses his job and the custody of his children as he seeks another low-wage job in the Twin Cities.
Filmed over a three-year period, the impact of the documentary is felt through the prolonged struggle of the families. Dave Nimmer, a member of the St. Thomas journalism faculty and one of the principals of the project said, “What impressed me most about the situation of the parents and children during this time is that they’re still stuck in poverty. They started out so far behind. They needed more help than people or institutions were willing or able to offer.
“I came away thinking there ought to be more carrots and fewer sticks in our approach to welfare reform,” Nimmer said.
Ron Riley and Brad Jacobsen of Instructional Support Services, Chris Kachian of the Music Department and Andy Scheiber of the English Department also were involved in the project.
“On the Outside Looking In” will be rebroadcast on KTCA at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 26.
To learn more about the documentary and to locate resources on poverty and welfare, please visit the "On the Outside Looking In" Web site.