Friday, June 29, 2018

He Who Has A Why Can Bear Any How Everything Else Is Merely Consumerism...,

NYTimes |  It wasn’t long ago that the term “middle class” suggested security, conformity and often complacency — a cohort that was such a reliable feature of postwar American life that it attracted not just political pandering but also cultural ridicule. The stereotype included everyone from men in gray flannel suits to the slick professionals of “Thirtysomething,” stuck or smug in their world of bourgeois comforts.

“Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America,” a timely new book by the journalist and poet Alissa Quart, arrives at a moment when members of the middle class are no longer a robust demographic but an embattled and shrinking population, struggling to hold on to their delicate perch in an unforgiving economic order. These aren’t the truly poor but those in the “just-making-it group,” or what Quart also calls “the Middle Precariat.” The people she talks to believed their educations and backgrounds (most of them grew up in middle-class homes) would guarantee some financial stability; instead, their work is “inconstant or contingent,” and their incomes are stagnant or worse.
“They are people on the brink who did everything ‘right,’” Quart writes, “and yet the math of their family lives is simply not adding up.”

Quart describes her own experience of slipping into the “falling middle-class vortex” after the birth of her daughter seven years ago, a time when she and her husband were freelance writers facing new child care costs and hospital bills. She eventually became the executive editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, a nonprofit organization founded by the journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, but her family had a “few years of fiscal vertigo.” Quart includes herself in the group she’s writing about; her book succeeds and suffers accordingly.

As she puts it in her introduction, the concerns of her subjects “were not abstract to me.” Quart is a sympathetic listener, getting people to reveal not just the tenuousness of their economic situations but also the turbulence of their emotional lives. A chapter on middle-age job-seekers who once worked as computer programmers or newspaper reporters captures the fallout of a discriminatory job market, which tells older unemployed people they should buck up and start over while also making them feel superfluous.

“I’ve tried to reinvent myself so many times,” an aeronautical-engineer-turned-website-designer-turned-personal-chef tells her. “To be honest, it hasn’t worked.” The woman is now in her 50s, with two grown daughters and plenty of debt from culinary school. “The world has evolved beyond me,” she says.