Recession Seen Through The Lens Of Youth

Student filmmaker Lenaisha Small, 12, shooting her project about the effects of the recession on her and her family. Small and several other teen documentarians are introduced on "Sunday Morning," as part of "CBS Reports: Children of the Recession."
As part of the special series CBS REPORTS: Children of the Recession, Sunday Morning followed five young filmmakers who've made short documentaries - each with a different story to tell about the impact of the current economic crisis on their lives.
They're five kids, each with five short films. And all of them capture how the recession is affecting their lives.

For 12-year-old Lenaisha Small, you can hear it in her every sigh.

"I don't know how to say it," she told CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason. "I really didn't know what the recession really was."

But she can tell you the exact month and day she found out - Nov. 10, the day her mother lost her job. Eviction was not far behind.

Lenaisha and the four other young directors - Sarah Alli, Ky Oseasha Thomas, Derek Garcia and Rana Ayhan - are all filmmaking students who came to us through the youth programs of New York City's Tribeca Film Institute.

And each one said it was important to make these films.

"This is a really big moment for our generation. I think it's important for us to show that and let other people know what we're going through," Derek said.

"A lot of kids will take advice from their friends before they'll take it from a grown-up. And it's like if my friend's talking about it, maybe I should start getting into it," added Lenaisha.

"Yeah I don't think adults can tell us how we feel about the recession," Rana said to the agreement of her fellow filmmakers. "We have to tell them"

Over the past three weeks, with the help of their school, teachers and the institute's staff, they put together their films.

The topics, which they chose themselves - touch on common childhood concerns that have suddenly become more complicated.

Read bios of the filmmakers here
Watch their documentaries here
"The stress of everyone else is contagious," Sarah said. "It's like they need to let it out and sometimes they put it on us."

Sarah Alli's mom, who works in real estate, is cutting back on anything that isn't a basic necessity. And that includes something 14-year-old Sarah sees as a cherished essential - her summer sleepaway camp.

"My mother can't afford to send me so this time I have to get a job to help her," Sarah said.

That's a pretty big change for her.

"It's like being a kid to being an adult in about two months," she said.

Ky Oseasha Thomas can relate.

The 18-year-old high school senior started working after school when her father was laid off. He's since found a new job but, she says, it pays about $20,000 less than his old one so Ky Oseasha still pitches in.

Ky Oseasha's film touches on how the recession has affected her family.

"Me, my mother, my father, we all work. And the schedules vary. It's like it's really not a chance that we all sit in one same room and like talk," she said.

But she considers herself lucky.

"There's adults like 35 and 25 [years old] trying to do the same thing we are. Simple jobs like cashier or sales associate, so it's been really competitive," she said.

But she can't afford to have too much sympathy.

"I mean I feel sorry, but it's like everybody's in the same situation, so it's I don't feel sorry ... It's … that competitive edge."

Her work schedule has her feeling older than her years.

"I feel like an old lady. I'm tired. I wanna take a nap. I'll be like 'What? Look at yourself. You're only 18,'" she said.

For Rana Ayhan, who's 17, even her upcoming prom creates anxiety. Is the experience worth the expense?

Her mother wants her to go, but Rana still worries.

"Just seeing my parents, you know trying to make ends meet. I feel like every decision I make with money I have to keep them in mind because they're the ones working hard for every dollar that I could spend in like a blink of an eye," she said.

"And it's like now, me and my friends we make this joke every time," Ky Oseasha said. "You wanna go to this place or, you know, you wanna go see a movie? It's a recession, man."

The recession has made it socially acceptable for kids to admit they can't spend.

Now everyone's comfortable talking about, 'Listen, I can't afford this school.' Or asking a teacher for a fee waiver," said Rana. "Before, you'd probably ask to see the teacher in private, but now everyone's just like 'I need one.'"

"Has anything good come out of the recession?" asked Mason.

"A lot of good sales going on," Rana said, to the laughter of her peers.

"Back to the prom, actually I got, like, a really good deal on my suit at Macy's," Derek said.

Seventeen-year-old Derek Garcia's film looks at the struggles of affording college.

"My friends got into their first choice colleges, but they can't go," he said. "A lot of colleges are very expensive - $40,000 to $50,000 - and they just didn't get enough financial aid."

"It's just one thing on top of another - the recession, the war, new president," said Sarah. "All of this stuff going in, it's really tough."

"There's a lot to think about," said Derek

"A lot to process," Sarah added.

Through the tough times, the kids say their parents have tried to protect them from the recession.

"My mom and dad, they really don't address things [until] they feel that it's really affected us and to the point where we're, like 'Okay, what's going on?'" said Ky Oseasha.

"My mom, she's the type of person [who] doesn't want to sugarcoat anything or kind of hide it from me, so she'll tell me about things," said Lenaisha.

Her mother's candor has given Lenaisha perspective.

They still can't afford their own apartment, but her mom recently started a new job and plans to go back to school.

"How did it feel to interview your mom about this?" Mason asked.

"Well, it felt kind of weird. ... I knew she was going through certain things, but I didn't know how it felt to her and how she really did want to support me," Lenaisha said.

The process of shooting their films made all the kids think about their own situations in new ways.

"It made me realize even more that everybody has a struggle and everybody has something to relate to," said Ky Oseasha. "Even though you might not see that at first, it's affecting everyone."

"Hopefully we could look back on these films in 20 years and be, like, 'What were we thinking? It's fine!'" said Derek.

But for 12-year-old Lenaisha, the recession may have forever altered the way she'll remember growing up.

"Usually adults look at their childhoods as the best time ever. And it's like you wanna have a good childhood because you want to come out, not just a fairy tale book, but a book that when you share it [with] your children, it comes out decent."

But for now, there are no fairy tales.

For more info:

  • Youth Programs at Tribeca Film Institute
  • Academy for Careers in Television and Film
  • Bronx Preparatory Charter School
  • Reel Works Teen Filmmaking
  • Scenarios USA
    • Anthony Mason

      CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"