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April 15, 2015

Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life & Times of Katrina Gilbert

By: 
Melissa Byers
 

 

As one of the estimated 42 million women living in poverty in America, Katrina Gilbert could be just another statistic.

But thanks to the HBO documentary Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert, she has instead become a spokesperson for a frequently unseen segment of American society.

Executive produced by Maria Shriver and Sheila Nevins and directed and produced by Shari Cookson and Nick Doob (The Memory Loss Tapes, Elaine Stritch: At Liberty), the documentary follows Gilbert as she attempts to make ends meet for herself and her three children working as a Certified Nursing Assistant for $9.49 per hour.

The documentary brings to light the highs and lows of a life on the brink of the American Dream. 

Although Gilbert works a 40 - or more - hour week, she still must often choose between getting food for her children and getting medicine for her own thyroid condition. She has no health insurance, no support from her ex-husband, who has his own substance abuse issues which keep him from holding down a job, and she lives in a trailer that leaks. She passes an entrance exam to get into college to further her education, but does not qualify for financial aid.

At one point, she has to sell the children’s puppy on Craigslist for $40 because they cannot afford to keep it.

Yet, in the face of all this, Gilbert presents a strong role model for her children, remaining hopeful throughout.

She does manage to find some help, particularly at the Chambliss Center, where her children receive free childcare and where the younger two are enrolled in the Head Start program. She has a loving, supportive boyfriend, himself a single father of four. She remains an outgoing, friendly woman, beloved by her patients in the extended care facility where she works. Even when she comes home exhausted, she still makes time to interact with her children. 

Gilbert is representative of women all over the nation who face similar trials daily. As Maria Shriver has said, "We all know Katrina Gilbert – she’s our friend, our sister, our daughter, struggling to make her way in the world. Understanding what challenges she faces, and seeing how optimistic she is in the face of such challenges, is the key to building woman’s economic empowerment."

The film itself has had a great impact by bringing the conversation about women’s poverty to the fore.

Gilbert was invited to the White House to witness President Obama signing into law the minimum wage bill. She is a frequent guest speaker at groups all over the country, telling her story and putting a face on the topic of women’s empowerment. She has become a rallying point for women facing the same kinds of difficulties.

Gilbert, herself, has had her life transformed by the film.

"I sometimes wonder, 'Why me?'" she said in an interview with the Times Free Press. "I'm just a girl from Chickamauga, Georgia, who graduated from Ridgeland High School. I was this nobody. And for some reason I was chosen for this. I was chosen to be the face of poverty, the face of millions of others living in poverty."

Even though she has become famous, in a sense, she still struggles to keep all the balls she juggles in the air.

She sometimes earns a few extra dollars from speaking engagements, but that does not mean that she necessarily has enough money to raise three kids and pay all her bills easily. She still has to use food stamps. She still has high medical bills. She still speaks authentically for women living in or at the brink of poverty.

But Katrina Gilbert remains hopeful, working toward a brighter future for herself and her children.

The boyfriend of the documentary is now her fiancé, and they plan to marry in November. She has just finished her second semester of college, and looks forward to a higher paying job once she finishes her studies. She serves as proof that determination can help people out of poverty. She has been one of the lucky ones.

However, many more Katrina Gilberts remain in a life of poverty, trying desperately, day after day, to make a life for themselves and their families. Films such as Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert remind us all that “there but for the grace of God…”

For bringing this important message to the public and shining a light on the issue, the Television Academy proudly chooses Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert as a recipient of the 2015 Television Academy Honors.

Produced by HBO Documentary Films in association with The Shriver Report and Mackerel Sky Films

Watch Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life & Times of Katrina Gilbert on the HBO website.


Experience the touching moments with photo galleries and presentations/acceptance speeches from the Eighth Annual Television Academy Honors celebration.

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