Starting in summer 2010, when many hoped an era of recovery would begin, and continuing through the holiday season six months later, HARD TIMES: LOST ON LONG ISLAND spotlights the challenges facing highly skilled, well-educated Long Islanders who lost their jobs. Public relations professional Anne Strauss notes, “Being unemployed for two years is not just a financial loss. It’s an emotional loss. It’s a loss of friendships. People disappear. You can’t socialize. It changes every facet of your life.”
When both people in a couple suffer economic hardships, it can cause considerable strain on their relationship, as Heather and David Hartstein testify. “Things between Heather and I became really difficult,” admits David. “I didn’t know how to handle and deal and feel emotion.” Compounding their crisis, the bank rejected their application for a loan modification on the same day their son tested positive for Down syndrome. They subsequently filed for bankruptcy. “That was when we decided…we’re done with all this,” explains Heather.
HBO Doc Takes a Hard Look at the Long-Term Unemployment Crisis – US News and World Report
Levin focuses his camera on Levittown, N.Y, a Long Island white collar community outside of New York City that was the poster child of upward middle-class mobility a half century ago. The manicured lawns and modest colonial-style houses are now haunted by middle-age professionals—corporate financiers, public relations representatives, teachers, and doctors—who have lost their jobs or seen a serious cut in pay in the wake of the Great Recession.
“You look at the homes, you look at the cars, you look at the people, and you say ‘This isn’t them, this isn’t some other, some alien, those people.’ This is your friends, your family, your neighbors, this is us,” says Levin, explaining why he chose Long Island to set his tale.
[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]
Throughout the film, Levin’s subjects compare their current plight to the tragedies and challenges they have faced in the past. Alan, a balding, sharply dressed, jolly corporate educator laid off the summer of 2009 (Levin began filming Hard Times about a year later) opens the film joking about how he has survived being struck by lightning, weathered heart problems, escaped both World Trade Center attacks, and made it through Colin Ferguson’s Long Island Rail Road shooting rampage.
“Being unemployed is something that I can deal with very easily and, you know, it could be a lot worse. It’s not the end of the world,” he says.
Though he maintains his smile and a jovial tone for most of the film, one somber discussion of the depression he battles shows long-term unemployment is a whole different kind of a challenge. Another character, Anne, who lost her PR job in 2008, makes the comparison more clear.
“Having cancer was easier than being unemployed,” she explained…