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A Day's Work, A Day's Pay

by Jonathan Skurnik and Kathy Leichter

Three welfare recipients transform their lives through their fight against workfare

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A DAY'S WORK, A DAY'S PAY follows three welfare recipients in New York City from 1997 to 2000 as they participate in the largest welfare-to-work program in the nation. When forced to work at city jobs for well below the prevailing wage and deprived of the chance to go to school, these individuals decide to fight back, demanding programs that will actually help them move off of welfare and into jobs. A DAY'S WORK, A DAY'S PAY traces the personal and political evolution of its three main characters. Juan Galan successfully organizes WEP workers while battling the demons of his own poverty-stricken childhood. Jackie Marte, who drops out of school in order to raise her two children, tries desperately to stay out of workfare, and in the nick of time succeeds in finding a job-training program that allows her to leave welfare for good. Jose Nicolau overcomes his timidity as he learns to organize against workfare, inspiring his peers with impassioned speeches, and testifying to the City Council about sexual harassment of WEP workers. As the film tracks the three-year effort to pass two critical pieces of legislation, viewers will come to understand the real-life impact that social policy has on human beings. They will also comprehend the effort required for poor and working people to transform themselves from victims of the System to fully empowered citizens who take control of their own lives.

quoteRecommended...A well-shot, nicely edited piece of documentary journalism that effectively manages to convey both the frustrations of individuals caught in the web of welfare and their growing political empowerment through grassroots activism.
G. Handman
full review

quoteA Day's Work, A Day's Pay makes a fierce claim for the dignity and rights of the welfare-poor-as-workers.
Rickie Solinger
full review

quoteA brilliant film about poverty, welfare reform, and the spirit of the people who suffer both. We will become a better country, with better policies, if every American sees this.
Frances Fox Piven, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology, City University of New York Graduate School

quoteThis remarkable film is about mean social policy and the impressive efforts of grassroots organizations to fight back. Documentaries often fail to tell both the human story and the political story. A DAY'S WORK, A DAY'S PAY tells both.
Peter Edelman, Professor of Law,
Georgetown University Law Center

quoteA DAY'S WORK, A DAY'S PAY features workfare participants who refused to take the brutality of welfare reform lying down. Drawing almost exclusively on the typically unheard voices of recipients, this beautiful film offers an amazingly authentic picture of workfare and the people who struggle against it. This compelling story of brave low-income individuals organizing effectively for social change should not be missed.
Mimi Abramovitz, Professor of Social Policy,
Hunter College School of Social Work,
The Graduate Center of the City University of New York

More Reviews


  • Brooklyn Arts Council 35th Annual International Film Festival - 2002
  • Cine Las Americas Film Festival - 2002
  • New York Latino Film Festival - 2002
  • US Congressional Screening - 2004
  • Harry Chapin Media Awards: Excellence Meets the Grassroots
  • PBS Broadcast

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A Day's Work, A Day's Pay

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