Working Families and the Future of American Social Policy


A thoughtful, largely clearheaded look at how “the late-twentieth century United States has ended up with an artificially polarized, rightward-tilting politics that downplays the needs and values of citizens in the missing middle [class].” Skocpol (Government and Sociology/Harvard; Health Care Reform and the Turn Against Government, not reviewed, etc.) examines how, during the past three decades or so, government social and tax policies have focused on the wealthy and the poor. Meanwhile, the lower-middle and middle-middle classes have suffered from wage stagnation, while benefiting only marginally or not at all from an expanding economy and the long “bull” stock market. Thus many “missing middle” couples and individuals work multiple jobs (often earning low pay in the growing service sector) to make ends meet, while the number lacking health insurance has grown by about a million per year during the Clinton presidency. Skocpol also demonstrates how at the same time the burden of poverty has shifted from the elderly to the young. The poverty rate among the former has dropped sharply, from over 33% in 1959 to 11% in 1996, while, according to one study, the US currently has the highest child poverty rate (21.5%) among 15 industrialized countries. Skocpol offers half a dozen proposals to ameliorate the “missing middle’s” plight; all “look for ways to build cross-generational and cross-class alliances” rather than appealing solely to working class or other left-liberal interests. Most, such as lending individuals money from the Social Security Trust Fund for educational and training programs—repayment would be through automatic payroll deductions’seem eminently sensible, if politically unfeasible. Some of Skocpol’s most far-reaching proposals, such as expanding Medicare to cover all Americans, are sketchy on fiscal details. But she convincingly indicts our often plutocratic, sound-bite-oriented political system for failing the middle class, and offers a strategy for effecting broad changes in social policy for the first time since the short-lived efforts to create a “Great Society” during the mid-1960s.

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 2000
ISBN: 0-393-04822-5
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2000