As the title suggests, Mr. Herbert believes that the United States has lost its way, evidenced by our rampant unemployment and underemployment, neglected infrastructure, income inequality and the scourge of poverty. Following his departure from the New York Times three years ago, Mr. Herbert set off on a journey across the country to report on Americans who were limping from paycheck to paycheck and falling further behind in an economy that has yet to fully recover from the Great Recession.
Among the Americans Mr.Herbert meets during the course of his journey are a twenty-something woman who suffers devastating injuries in a tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis; a twenty-four-year-old soldier from Peachtree City, Georgia, who loses his legs and an arm in a seemingly endless war; an exhausted high school senior in Brooklyn who works the overnight shift in a factory, packaging bread, at minimum wage to help pay her family’s rent; and a group of parents in Pittsburgh who fight back against the politicians who decimated funding for their children’s schools.
Throughout the book, Mr. Herbert reminds readers of a time in America when unemployment was low, wages and profits were high, and the nation’s wealth, by current standards, was distributed much more equitably. Mr. Herbert traces where we went wrong and highlights the drastic and dangerous shift of political power from ordinary Americans to the corporate and financial elite.
A recent essay in The Atlantic by Neal Gabler, The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans, which is getting a lot of attention lately, made me think of Mr. Herbert’s book and the common thread running through both; the disappearance of America’s Middle-Class.
Early in the piece Mr. Gabler discusses a survey where the Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer? 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
Mr. Gabler responds he knew, because he would be included in that 47 percent. This is surprising because Mr. Gabler has enjoyed success as a writer and film critic; and lives in what many would consider an affluent area. He then goes into great detail about how he found himself in a position to be included in that 47 percent and how he came to understand that a significant number of Americans are ‘financially impotent’ and feel great shame for the position they have found themselves in.
I highly recommend that you find some time to read the essay; and if you have more time, listen to Tom Ashcroft’s On Point interview with Mr. Gabler and watch an interview with Mr. Gabler at The Atlantic Summit on the Economy.
Stay Savvy, my friends!