There are 540 billionaires in the United States, with a combined net worth of $2.399 trillion, according to a 2016 list of the world's richest people. That is more billionaires and more combined net worth than any other nation in the world. Even as the U.S. economy grows and the number of workers breaks records, inequality continues to climb and poverty to rise. The average American family today is financially squeezed. The income gap between the wealthy and the middle class/working poor is the U.S. economic story of the early 21st century.
Alissa Quart examines the lives of many American families whose middle-class dreams are increasingly out of reach. “The middle class is endangered on all sides,” argues Quart.
Through first-hand storytelling Quart reveals the financial crippling effects child care has on families, as well as looming student loan debts, the high cost of housing, automation and wage stagnation. All these menacing factors threaten job stability and monetary solvency for many breadwinners and their kin.
In addition, many wage earners blame themselves for not being able to provide for the family as they had hoped. Quart describes the detrimental effects of this guilt and demonstrates that the cause is not an individual one, but the result of a social system that has left the middle class “stranded, stagnant, and impotent.” The principal culprit is “growing income inequality.”
Among Quart’s profiles of squeezed Americans are some who are highly educated, but live just above the poverty level because colleges are only hiring adjunct faculty members; others who work erratic schedules requiring “extreme day care”; and those immigrant nannies who are underemployed and often separated from their own children.
Quart then offers some plausible solutions to income inequality, including policy modifications in the workplace, do-it-yourself tactics to care for property, and reevaluation of parenthood and care giving in our society. Her solutions are rather sketchy and could be improved by being expanded, but overall Quart’s answers are practical and doable.