Hard Choices: One Newark’s Family Struggles to Make Ends Meet

With the economy still recovering from the worst financial crisis in decades, many Americans are struggling to make ends meet. And times are especially tough for Americans with low-paying jobs – the working poor – who earn too much to qualify for many government benefits, but still not enough to be financially secure.

To gain insight into how families like these get by and learn what might be done to help them, Need to Know’s Stacey Tisdale traveled to Newark, New Jersey, where she met one family whose plight illustrates the situation millions of Americans face.


PBS’s Need to Know shines a human light on families in need in their portrait of Juanita and Andre, a mother and son from Newark, New Jersey. Video courtesy of Need to Know.

We asked this family to keep a detailed diary of their monthly income and expenses to show the difficult spending decisions they face each month. With little money nor financial savvy, the family incurs additional expenses simply because of their economic disadvantages. Our inspiration came from an innovative new research project called the US Financial Diaries, which is following 300 families for more than a year and tracking their cash flow with the goal of improving policy and financial products for this under-served population.

Near the end of our report, Juanita and Andre met with Greenpath, a nonprofit debt counseling organization. A counselor there discovered some unnecessary credit protection fees being charged to one of Juanita’s accounts, which was undermining her efforts to pay off some of her debt. The counselor also convinced Andre to open a bank account to avoid the check cashing fees he was paying each month.

This report is part of the ongoing series “Your Money and Your Life.” For more on the series, visit Need to Know. Also see this interview with Mae Watson Grote, founder and executive director of the New York-based non-profit The Financial Clinic.

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