Paycheck to Paycheck: The American Dream Gone Awry - Women's Foundation California
Agnes Uboma
Agnes Uboma


by Agnes Uboma, Executive Assistant

As a womanist I try my best to support film, research, music and all things in between that highlight the condition of women. Working at The Women’s Foundation of California, I am inclined to stay abreast of policy agendas that directly affect the condition of women so when I received an email about the documentary Paycheck to Paycheck it was a no brainer; go home, set my DVR, pour a glass of wine and prepare to take notes about a matter that I work on every day.

So I did just that – more actually. I went home, set my DVR, went to the gym, took a shower, warmed up some tasty leftovers, climbed into bed with my notebook and my glass of wine, and turned on my recording of Paycheck to Paycheck. While I knew that the topic was serious, I was taken aback by the overwhelming sense of despair and angst that filled me as I watched Katrina go about her daily life. I realized that I would have to somehow manage to turn my viewing into a call of duty.

In the documentary, Katrina, a single mother of three, takes the viewer on a journey of long dreary work days, hungry evenings, poor health, marriage separation as she cannot afford the actual divorce, child support woes, child rearing, ramifications of spousal substance abuse, dwindling food stamps, denied financial aid for college, and emotionally drained children. The one good thing she did for herself? Go to a neighborhood salon for a haircut. To top it off, as if things weren’t bad enough, the viewer is confronted with overwhelming despair as Katrina’s three children are tearfully forced to give their puppy away in the parking lot of Wal-Mart for forty dollars.

Paycheck to Paycheck was about more than the objective examination of Katrina’s life; it was a reflection of everything gone awry with the pursuit of happiness better known as the American dream. Because here’s the thing: Katrina isn’t the only one living paycheck to paycheck. Living paycheck to paycheck is becoming a dreadful reality for middle class Americans as the pursuit of the once luminous American dream diminishes and goes unrealized/uncaptured.

Like Katrina, I found myself living paycheck to paycheck. After receiving a master’s degree at 24, being laid off from a fortune 500 company along with the rest of America in 2009 I was up to my eyeballs in student loan debt and spending fast through my five figure savings. Because I have no children and unwed Uncle Sam is less than kind to me every April 15th, and because I live in the San Francisco Bay Area if I want to be able to “safely” transfer my groceries from my car to my apartment and rent is the cost of a mortgage payment, even now, I’m not too far away from paycheck to paycheck.

No matter our ethnicity or education, most of us are one life situation away from becoming the subject of a documentary. Paycheck to Paycheck is eye-opening for those who have never lived it. For all of us “others” it is a sobering, cold reminder of what we already knew, lived, breathed, cried and dreamed through.

Watching Paycheck to Paycheck reminded me of my duty – to pledge my allegiance to all of the Katrinas by working toward a just and equitable California, in which all people and communities, have the opportunity to realize their vision of the American dream.


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