FALLING FROM GRACE: The Experience of Downward Mobility in the American Middle Class by Katherine S. Newman

FALLING FROM GRACE: The Experience of Downward Mobility in the American Middle Class

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Here, anthropologist Newman (Columbia) tackles the growing problem of downward mobility in the middle class. The vaunted figure of the 80's may be the Yuppie, but Newman suggests that, in actuality, over half of the American population is currently experiencing an erosion of living standards due to inflation, corporate layoffs (particularly in the high-tech fields), or divorce. Newman indicts the corporate world for a seeming lack of empathy for displaced workers and executives caught in budget crunches. She suggests that laid-off executives (who fall the farthest) are lumped into the category of ""inept"" by other corporations and head-hunters, despite the fact that they usually fall due to the cutting of a whole department for budget reasons. Based on in-depth interviews with actual victims, this work chronicles the loss of self-confidence that ultimately eats away at those who are forced to give up old standards of living and even to sell homes in the effort to keep food on the table. ""Downward mobility is the crucible of self-doubt."" Newman, unfortunately, is long on indictments but short on solutions. She devotes just half a page to the subject of how our society might better face this problem. Falling back on other cultures, Newman suggests the Japanese. or West German approach as a preventative. The industries of those countries seem to be suffused with ""an ethos of loyalty and reciprocal commitment."" Before discharging employees, these nations' industries will look to cut hours. And when times really get rough, Japanese companies might, as Matsuhita actually did, send assembly-line workers out selling door-to-door. Others have suggested that America adopt Japanese methods before, so Newman is offering no new prescription here. But her diagnostic tracking of middle-class belt-tightening is well researched and valuable.

Pub Date: June 27th, 1988
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan