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Poor Kids USA: Update

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

Five years ago, in the Emmy-nominated documentary, Poor Kids, FRONTLINE explored the economic crisis as it’s rarely seen: through the eyes of children.

Now, in a new version of Poor Kids premiering Wednesday, November 22, FRONTLINE continues its reporting on child poverty in America — revisiting the kids at the heart of the film to see what their lives are like now, and offering a powerful, firsthand look at what poverty means to children and the country.

Startling and intimate, the film is an indelible portrait of the realities of growing up poor in America, told by children in three families over the course of half a decade.

When FRONTLINE viewers first met Kaylie, Brittany, Jasmine, Johnny and their families, they were living in the Quad Cities, a crossroads along the border of Iowa and Illinois, and had been hit hard by the recession.

“I’m just starving. We don’t get that three meals a day, like breakfast, lunch and dinner,” said 10-year-old Kaylie. She worried about missing so much school as a result of her family’s transient existence: “If I keep missing school then I see my future poor, on the streets, in a box,” she said, from the motel room where she and her family were temporarily living.

It’s a worry that was all too familiar to 13-year-old Johnny, who along with his 9-year-old sister Jasmine and their other siblings had been living at a homeless shelter since their father’s business went south: “Grades is my only way out of here,” Johnny told FRONTLINE.

His sister, Jasmine, also yearned for a better life: “I’m embarrassed because I’m poor and because I live in a shelter,” she said. “It makes me feel like I just wish I never lived here.”

Then there’s nine-year-old Brittany, whose mother learned she was expecting another baby shortly after the family lost their home: “The baby’s future is gonna be weird and messed up,” Brittany said. “Life is gonna be hard because there is hardly gonna be any jobs left in the future.”

Where are Kaylie, Johnny, Jasmine, Brittany, and their families today? Scattered across the country and still struggling — but still persisting.

“No matter what I go through, I’ll still, like, wanna try and try and try to be better,” says Brittany, now 15.

“If you fall, you gotta get up, dust it off and keep on going,” says Johnny, now 19 and living with his grandmother on the south side of Chicago. “It’s the only thing you can do.”

Watch Poor Kids for the full story on how these children’s lives are now unfolding. With more than one in six of the nation’s children living below the poverty level, the film gives an unforgettable perspective on the impact of unemployment, foreclosure and financial distress through the eyes of the children directly impacted.

A Very Sad Day

Last night an amazing young man lost his life in a car accident. Roger, who took part in “Frontline Poor Kids” and more recently an updated version, was killed when his car hit ice and rolled. The irony of this is that when we saw him recently Lauren and Jezza encouraged him to get his licence so he’d have more independence and job oppourtunities, never thinking for a minute that it would end his life.

If you are in the USA please watch “Poor Kids” and you will see for yourself what an amazing brother he was to Zak and Brittany, his dad’s best mate and was still his mum’s gentle giant. We truly believed Roger was going to work his way out of a life of poverty and struggle but sadly it was not to be. When you have little in life, family becomes so much more important and we know he will leave a massive whole in the hearts of those he has left behind. We feel honoured to have been able to at least capture some of his great qualities on film and that through the films we have made together he has inspired others to look at kids growing up in poverty in a different light.

RIP Roger, you were a great kid, an inspiration to many and you will be greatly missed.

please help us all stand United and help pay for this young mans send off to heaven.

FRONTLINE: Remembering Roger Smith from "Poor Kids"

Inside The Issues With Wilmer Leon

Poverty From A Kids Point Of View