A clear presentation of the retirement problem in the United States, shown through the stories of diverse individuals whose insecurity reveals a shredding of the fabric of American life.
Newman (Sociology/Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston; The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents, and the Private Toll of Global Competition, 2012, etc.), a sociologist who has been examining the lives of working Americans for many years, turns her attention to five groups: blue-collar workers, skilled private-sector workers, public-sector workers, employees past the age of retirement, and younger workers (mostly millennials). For each category, besides giving her own analysis, the author lets representative individuals speak in their own words. The picture they paint is not pretty. Newman’s first focus is the Teamsters, whose pension funds are running dry. Next, the author scrutinizes Verizon and United Airlines and their treatment of longtime workers. “While the Teamsters focused their ire on politicians, the Treasury Department, and Wall Street,” writes Newman, “Verizon and United retirees tended to direct their moral critique at company management.” In her chapter on public-sector employees, the author singles out Detroit as an example of the fate of civil service pensions when a city declares bankruptcy. The stories of “gray labor,” retirement-age workers who cannot afford to retire, is especially disheartening, and then there are the younger workers, trying to fund their own retirement plans and for whom Social Security benefits are a fading dream. Of special interest is Newman’s comparison of how retirees fare in two American cities: Opelousas, Louisiana, which has the nation’s highest rate of elder poverty, and Ogden, Utah, which is populated by well-protected retirees. Similarly, the author looks at Denmark, Netherlands, and Australia, countries that provide security to their retirees, seeking ideas to help ease America’s retirement crisis.
The stories sometimes drag, but the facts are undeniable and well-presented, and the message is clear.