Paycheck to Paycheck: One Mother's Story of Living on the Brink of Poverty

Monday, March 17, 2014

Katrina Gilbert and her three young children, the subjects of the HBO documentary, "Paycheck to Paycheck"

About 42 million women in America are living in poverty or teetering on the brink. More than a third of them are the mothers of young children.

A new HBO documentary,"Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert," takes an intensely personal look at the story of one woman, Katrina Gilbert, a single mother of three. Filmmakers followed Katrina around for a year, documenting her life as a mom and a certified nursing assistant, making just above minimum wage. 

Katrina joined us in studio along with one of the film's directors, Shari Cookson, to explore what poverty looks like for women in America. This film is a part of Maria Shriver's multimedia project, "The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Pushes Back from the Brink."

Watch a trailer for the film below.


Shari Cookson and Katrina Gilbert

Produced by:

Allie Ferguson and Kristen Meinzer


T.J. Raphael

Comments [13]

TJ Crow from Virginia

Great interview John and Takeawayers. Loved it when Shari Cookson said "... different things are rich in your life and different things are poor in your life..."

Mar. 17 2014 10:13 PM
MEM-CanWeThink from Texas

I do not want to sound hurtful and indeed not insulting, and it may not be an easy pill to swallow, but why not get married? It can be made workable - I did not say easier or without tradeoffs - but may well provide a sounder basis financially or an improvement financially while creating a better opportunity for the children's lives and the new "parents" too.

Life is not perfect, you may well have figured it out; but with flexibility there are alternatives to consider. Tradeoffs are just what they are - and surprisingly understanding people can, can grow and rebuild and flourish.

Mar. 17 2014 09:19 PM
Beleagured Mom from Alaska

Husbands and fathers are allowed financial freedom via Family Court. My husband was allowed to walk off from our marriage with the financial advantage. He has been allowed to privatize financial benefits of divorce....he gets his paycheck which MY homebased labor has freed him to increas his salary and financial nest egg. While.our child and I got homelessness, unemployment, no car, bad credit from poverty, no health insurance, no dental care, no eye care. For 10 YEARS, we were forced to couch surf, share tiny bedroom, live in a warehouse, camp, live in truck, e our belongings stollen, illegally removed from our home. I am not qualified for ANY FINANCIAL AID for job training. Health problems are now magnified from years of deprivation. We are on public assistance with no hope p of becoming financially independent.

HE has been secure since he walked away. HE is an engineer, drives a luxury car, bought a condo, travels , downhill skis and banks his salary. He is gets job skill updates to increase his salary.HE is building a GREAT RETIREMENT!

We are a spectacular case of failed public policy, no protection by Family Court and a sociopath allowed to to damage his family with impunity and satisfaction.He has successful crippled me, broken his obligations to us and offloaded his financial responsibilities onto the tax payer.

Mar. 17 2014 04:17 PM

I have over $100,000 in student loan debt from under grad and grad. Even with my job, which on paper looks like it pays middle of the road, I'm living paycheck to paycheck. Debt is pulling this country under.

Mar. 17 2014 04:02 PM
Steve Kercher from Massachusetts

You need to hear how Megan Holcomb, a single mom with 5 boys, completely changed her situation around. It is quite remarkable and inspiring.

Mar. 17 2014 03:32 PM
Daniel Pugh from Calumet, Oklahoma

Im running for U.S. Senate from Oklahoma. Although a Republican, I get it. The poor and middle class must be given the tools to move upward...they need more disposable income and they need it fast.

I've drafted an economic recovery plan that targets directly helping those struggling in our stalled economy. It's called the OWNER plan, an acronym for OVERALL WEALTH NATIONAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY. The median income earner would net over $200 a month. As best as I can tell Katrina would gain $100 a month for starters. But if enacted it could be immediate and sustained.

Key to its success is that 25% of wages are exempt from all federal taxes for both employee and employer. The initial loss in federal revenue would quickly be recouped by rise in demand for goods and services, rehires and employers to give raises with the extra capital. For a detailed account of the OWNER plan visit

Submitted for your kind consideration,


Mar. 17 2014 03:14 PM
Valerie from Salt Lake City

My husband and I both bought into the Middle American dream of working hard and getting the Middle American house for our family of four with the Middle American cars and the insurance and bank jobs to support that. Now, with our house worth $40,000 less than what we paid for it and my husband making $17,000 less a year we are stuck living paycheck to paycheck with no savings, no retirement and looking at being a burden to our children who we can't afford to send to college. I have to push back on candy bars, too, to make sure we have enough to keep the lights on. I know we're not the only ones in this situation. What is it that needs to change? Is there anything that WE can do about it or are the people with money who are influencing the laws the only ones that will ever come out on top? Is anything going to change in my lifetime?

Mar. 17 2014 03:08 PM
Mike from Oregon

If a person working a "dirty" job gets education and moves to a "good" job, who does the "dirty" job?

Mar. 17 2014 01:37 PM
Phyllis Abbott-Cavota from Salem, OR

My husband and I are retired: I am a retired Special Education and my husband from a government job. I never imagined that being retired would mean seeing all our savings disappear just to keep ends together. We have my retirement, and SS, my husband just SS. We make too much for food stamps so we go to a food pantry twice a month. Our primary cost is our mortgage; which takes one third of our income. We went bankrupt in 2010 , which has been used as an excuse to deny us any HARP refinancing. I recently had to borrow $3000 to take care of a dental emergency. I, like the model, eke out from day to day. Fortunately I am a good cook and make many of my own "staples": bread, a lot of delicious soups, and baked goods. I w wonder if we'll ever be able to save money.

Mar. 17 2014 01:31 PM
lily winter from mn

I don't want to appear prehistoric, but where is the father of these children?

Mar. 17 2014 01:25 PM
Christine from Salem Oregon

We are retired on 3 incomes (social security being two of them) and yet we have to keep the temperature in our home below 65 degrees. Electricity is just too expensive. We cut back on food. Toast for breakfast, no lunch and small dinner. We pay our car insurance in full, we keep our car fuel consumption down by staying home keeping our trips to town at a minimum.
We can't cut back on the landline phone, the recycle, the Internet, and the list goes on.
We are lucky to have a decent secondary health insurance. If it were not for that we would have to eat less and keep the temperature in our home below 55 degrees.

Mar. 17 2014 12:41 PM
Angel from Miami FL

In America, everything is for the shareholders. Katrina should become a corporate shareholder if she wants to be heard.

Mar. 17 2014 09:46 AM
Chris from Columbia, SC

I have a so-called good job for an International phone company. I get paid twice a month. I try to live simply yet I cannot afford necessary things. I need a better car. I need home repairs. I cannot get sick because missing one check will send me spiralling in deep debt. I only wish I get a lump sum to get out of debt then possibly I can breathe.

Mar. 17 2014 09:34 AM

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