In the opening moments of HBO’s disquieting new documentary Hard Times: Lost on Long Island, balding, bespectacled Alan Fromm — an unemployed corporate trainer — catalogs the catastrophes he survived prior to losing his job a year earlier: struck by lightning at 15; heart trouble at 21; in the World Trade Center during the 1993 bombing; on the Long Island Rail Road when Colin Ferguson gunned down 25 passengers nine months later; and in the north tower on 9/11. By comparison, he says, unemployment doesn’t seem so bad.
But it’s getting there.
Fromm often gathers with a rotating crew of fellow job seekers for coffee and commiseration. Among them are Anne Strauss, a jobless PR exec, and her husband Mel, an unemployed banker; former Wall Street securities executive Nick Puccio and his wife Regina; and chiropractor David Hartstein, whose business is failing, and his wife Heather, a laid-off teacher.
As the ensuing hour unfolds — and over a cruel backdrop of news reports that announce further economic disaster and chastise those caught in its grip — the four families and others share escalating struggles that include dramatic health events, fruitless interviews and soul-rending battles to keep their modest family homes.
The stats against them are staggering:
• The suburbs are now America’s fastest-growing area of poverty
• The average length of unemployment is nine months — a national all-time high
• There are four job seekers for every available job
• More than 5 million personal bankruptcies have been filed since 2008
• More than 6 million homes have fallen into foreclosure since 2008
Stark, clear-eyed and never mawkish — with a heartbreaking afterword — the film, from Emmy-winning director/producer Marc Levin, presents a disquieting look at how close those of us who have everything could be to losing it all.
Hard Times: Lost on Long Island premieres on HBO Monday July 9 at 9/8CT