FROM THE NEW DEAL TO THE NEW ECONOMY
A Short History of the American Middle Class
“We're hemorrhaging money and I don't know how to stop the leak.”
“Dealing with finances was always like spinning plates. One unexpected thing thrown in the mix and suddenly it all goes tumbling.”
“It's like we're living on the edge of a financial cliff and the tiniest thing could push us off.”
“It always feels like I'm just this side of financial catastrophe.”
No matter how colorfully they chose to phrase it, the individuals and families I spoke to expressed a level of panic and desperation that seems new to the middle-class experience, a sense of permanently careening out of control. When we first emerge from our college cocoons, many of us are determined to try and avoid financial hardship, but quickly learn that for most of us that attempt will be fruitless.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of this fear consuming so many of us is that it isn't one thing—one tangible, tackle-able thing—but the whole erratic picture, the combination of small problems and large stressors, that has us overwhelmed. One strand of financial stress—increased cost of housing, child care, or health care, or periodic dips in income—we might be able to handle. But being hit by all these economic blows simultaneously is too much, both financially and psychologically. You can't isolate and address them the way a social scientist or researcher would. Instead, one stumble causes another and then another—the mortgage, the credit card company, the biological clock that won't wait for you to pick yourself up and dust yourself off.