New documentary profiles the unemployed of suburban Long Island


Director Marc Levin doesn’t intend to let politicians, the media, or the gainfully employed forget about their unemployed neighbors.

Levin’s new documentary, Hard Times: Lost on Long Island (trailer after jump), interviews the long-term unemployed in Levittown, N.Y., a city of about 50,000 known as one of the first successful post-World War II modern suburban enclaves. The Nassau County city had a median family income in excess of $90,000; only 2.5% of its residents lived below the federal poverty rate; and a home ownership rate of 91%, according to the latest U.S. Census

The personal stories in the film contradict the narrative that the unemployed aren’t trying hard enough to find new jobs. Many in the film also describe their depression and anxiety over their unemployment.

“Having cancer was easier than being unemployed,” says one.

“What we want are jobs. What we need are jobs,” says another.

“We’ve heard so much mischaracterization of the people who are out of work—the moocher class, people who are lazy. ‘It’s them, it’s not us,’” Levin said on Morning Joe Thursday. “So here you’re going to neighborhoods that look beautiful, that we’d all like to live in, grow up in—nice houses, nice cars. And yet, behind those doors people are collapsing inside, disappearing really. The idea was a snapshot that would humanize these [unemployment] statistics that we repeat over and over, but also break down, ‘It’s them; it’s somebody else.’ No, it’s your neighbor, your friend, it’s your family—it’s us.”

The U.S. unemployment rate is expected to stay above 6% for the next four years, according to the majority of economists surveyed by the Associated Press in its latest Economy Survey. That analysis arrives ahead of Friday’s monthly jobs report from the federal government, which is expected to show around 100,000 jobs created—not enough to put a dent in 8.2% national unemployment rate.

Levin noted that the people interviewed in Hard Times “internalize the blame,” and don’t discuss their plight with friends, or even family, because of their shame. “It’s almost as if these people have disappeared,” he said. “Sometimes their neighbors don’t even know…It’s human capital that’s going to waste.”

The documentary will air on HBO beginning July 9.