True Vision

films that make a difference

America's Poor Kids

Back to ‘Our Films’
59 minutes
Jezza Neumann and Lauren Mucciolo
Jezza Neumann
Executive Producer:
Brian Woods

In the United States, child poverty has reached record levels, with over 16 million children now affected. Food banks are facing unprecedented demand, and homeless shelters now have long waiting lists, as families who have known a much better life have to leave their homes, sometimes with just a few days notice.  America’s Poor Kids meets three children whose families are struggling to get by, and asks them to tell us what life in modern America really looks like through their eyes.

Told from the point of view of the children themselves, this one-hour documentary offers a unique perspective on the nation's flagging economy and the impact of unemployment, homelessness and poverty as seen through the eyes of the children affected.

For 10-year-old Kaylie, the hardest part of dealing with her family’s financial difficulties is ignoring the gnawing hunger in her stomach. “I’m just starving,” she says. “We don’t get that three meals a day, like breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”


Her brother, Tyler, 12, agrees. “Sometimes when we have cereal, we don’t have milk, so we have to eat it dry,” he says. “Sometimes … when there’s a cooking show on, I get a little more hungry, and I want to vanish into the screen and just start eating the food.”

Kaylie and Tyler’s mother, Barbara, gets $1,480 a month. Rent and utilities consume $1,326 of that, leaving little money for food or gas. To help her mother, Kaylie spends her free time collecting cans. “I just walk around, look for cans. I walk around the whole town,” she says.

The non-squished ones are five cents.”

Kaylie worries about the precarious state of her family’s finances: “When we can’t afford to pay our bills, like our house bills and stuff, I’m afraid that we’ll get homeless, and me and my brother will starve.”

It’s a fear that 13-year-old Johnny understands all too well. After his father lost his construction business, Johnny lost his home. His family now live in the Salvation Army shelter in Davenport, Iowa, but the day of the move still haunts Johnny and his siblings.

“Anything that could fit in a school bag or a suitcase, you could take it. This TV, that only made it because it could fit in my bag. If it couldn’t fit in my bag that would’ve been left behind too.”

The shelter Johnny and his siblings now live in has a waiting list of over 200 families and as Johnny knows all too well, anyone can fall into poverty.

“People who come to a homeless shelter, it can just be just somebody who was living good at one time and had it all - a bill that didn't get paid, a utility bill, a payment, a foreclosure, anything. Anything can easily take them straight down to the floor and down to ground zero”.

In San Francisco, 10yr old, Sera also experienced life in a shelter and is now living in a one room apartment with her mother and 16yr old sister.

“I don’t think it’s a good way to be growing up. I guess it was just the family I was put into. It was all for some reason. Maybe it was because we’re strong.”

Sera’s apartment is in an area of San Francisco known as the Tenderloin. It’s a neighbourhood synonymous with drugs, violence and homelessness. With drug dealers on most corners Sera never plays out and is escorted by her older sister whenever she wants to visit the sweet shop at the end of her road.

“My sister has taught me if a man throws the first punch and misses, you throw the second punch and not miss. And I know where to hit a man where it hurts. I do!”

With the current subsidy for their one room about to run out Sera and her family face the prospect of heading back to the shelter, something Sera fears. “No kid should ever have to go through two homeless shelters. This is not the Great American Dream.”

The film’s BAFTA winning director, Jezza Neumann, invested months in the US gaining the trust of the food banks, schools and shelters, and then the families and children themselves.  As a result he paints an extraordinarily intimate portrait of life for children growing up on the bottom rung of American society.

With images that will stay with you long after it ends, this film presents an unforgettable portrait of the recession’s human impact – and the undeniable toll the stalling economy takes on children.


Helping the families

There are many specialised charities in the US working to tackle the issues causes by Child poverty and who can offer help and support to families in similar circumstances to those shown in the film. Details of a range of organisations can be found below, and also on the BBC America's Poor Kids website.

The position of BBC Editorial Policy is that because of the BBC's over-riding duty to remain impartial, the BBC/True Vision must not solicit or broker direct donations to the families.  If you wish to know more then you can email who can give you further information and direct you to organisations that may be willing to pass on a donation to a specific family.



The following organisations help those affected by the issues raised in America’s Poor Kids.

Salvation Army in Davenport, Iowa

The Salvation Army works against poverty, addiction and homelessness.

Salvation Army Quad Cities Iowa, Illinois

Riverbend Food Bank in Moline, Illinois

The Riverbend Foodbank is a non–profit organisation that collects donations of food from the food industry for distribution to community organisations.

The Riverbend Foodbank

Project NOW in Rock Island, Illinois

Project NOW is a Community Action Agencies that seeks to help families meet basic needs.

Project NOW site

Compass Family Services in San Francisco, California

Compass Family Services is a non-profit organization providing support services for homeless and at-risk families.

Compass Family Services

Further information

Read Director, Jezza Neumann's, BBC TV Blog interview here

See a PBS Newshour online Q&A with Jezza Neumann here

The Takeaway interviews Jezza Neumann

Poor Kids and Jezza Neumann on NBCCBS and ABC