Fighting to stay in the middle class.
“The middle class is endangered on all sides,” argues journalist Quart (Republic of Outsiders: The Power of Amateurs, Dreamers, and Rebels, 2014, etc.), executive editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, a nonprofit journalism group. In this highly thoughtful and compassionate account, she describes the forces that are making the traditional aspects of the “American Dream” out of reach for many Americans. “It’s not your fault….The problem is systemic,” she writes. She cites the rising costs of education, health care, rent, and day care as well as the negative effects of unstable work hours, declining unionism, the gig and freelance economy, the bias against mothers and older workers, automation, and the political shift to the right. In chapters highlighting the experiences of men and women (especially pregnant and single-parent), Quart demonstrates that the social system has left the middle class “stranded, stagnant, and impotent.” The biggest culprit is “growing income inequality.” Many people who “believed that their training or background would ensure that they would be properly, comfortably middle-class” are now “ ‘fronting’ as bourgeois while standing on a pile of debt.” The author delivers painful portraits of underemployed law school graduates, Uber-driving schoolteachers, and adjunct college professors—the “hyper-educated poor”—who earn less than $20,000 annually and shop exclusively at thrift shops. Often wracked by self-blame, isolated, and ashamed of their lack of money, those interviewed by Quart wonder how they are supposed to survive “doing what we love” in a society that undervalues caring and intellect and lacks subsidized day care and affordable housing. Some readers may balk at Quart’s concern over the “psychological burden” facing upper-middle-class denizens in overpriced cities, but she offers excellent discussions of co-parenting, the problems facing immigrants, and the perils of enrolling in for-profit schools.
Well-written, wide-ranging, and vital to understanding American life today.