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Sunday, August 19, 2018


Published by HarperAudio in June of 2018.
Read by Carly Robins.
Duration: 8 hours, 52 minutes.


The premise of this book is that middle class Americans are feeling "squeezed" economically because...they are.

I heard an interview with this author on NPR and I was intrigued so I decided to check out her book.

Quart lists several factors, some more plausible than others. She is very big on the concept that the "caring careers" are under-paid due to latent sexism, since the majority of the people in those careers are female. These careers include nurses, daycare personnel and teachers.

She correctly notes that raising children is expensive and daycare is a big part of that. A great deal of the book is spent on this topic, including alternative arrangements to traditional daycare, experiments in state-funded pre-school and the struggles of single parents having to work and pay for daycare. 

The author, Alissa Quart
She calls into question the idea that everyone should attend college to move up in the world. In some states, the majority of people who graduate from law school never actually practice law - because there are simply too many graduates. Some people try to re-boot their professional lives by getting re-trained only to find out that the re-training was expensive and practically worthless. 

The book begins with a look at several adjunct professors who eke out a living teaching at several colleges with class-by-class contracts. These are non-tenure track jobs and there is no way an adjunct lecturer could make a decent living, even while teaching a full load of classes. The days when one could get their PhD and get a decent job teaching at a university are mostly gone - in some schools a majority of the classes are taught by adjuncts with their class-by-class contracts.

In the middle, she looks at public education, specifically New York City's system. This is a long, convoluted mess of a section, much like New York's schools. The reason I say that it is a mess is that New York's system in unlike any other system in the country so almost nothing that she notes about their system corresponds to the schools systems the vast majority of Americans experience. More about this down below.

She also briefly mentions, almost as an aside, the decline of unions. She never mentions the role of immigration in lowering overall salaries. It makes basic economic sense - the larger the supply of workers, the less employers have to pay because there are more applicants for every job.

The last portion of the book looks at the role of technology in "squeezing" the middle class. She quotes a report from Ball State University that says that most job losses have not come from moving facilities to foreign countries, but instead have come from technology taking over jobs. Hospitals are looking at robots to deliver medicine and other items. There is a very real possibility that long haul trucks will be automated in the future as well. Just yesterday, I was in a McDonald's that installed a series of touch screen kiosks to replace their cashiers (I didn't use them, though. I didn't even notice them until after I already was eating at my table).

Her final answer is a Universal Basic Income (UBI). This is the idea that the government makes sure every individual and every family has at least so much money. Here's a link to explain it better: UBI. I'm not going to try to explain it in more detail because I don't think it is even a realistic proposal.

There may well be a great book out there about the middle class being "squeezed", but I think this one falls short. She misses too many things, such as our collective failure to promote the trades in schools. Electricians, plumbers and auto mechanics make pretty good money. Maybe some of the re-training money she discussed in the book would have been better spent learning how to install HVAC systems. You might say, "What if he really wants to study French poetry because he wants to do what he loves?" Quart thoroughly trashes that concept as a tool used by management to stop people from complaining if their pay isn't high enough.

As I noted before, way too much of this book is rooted in the New York City experience - their schools, their rents, their pre-school program and more. While I freely admit, NYC is America's biggest and most important city, it is not remotely close to the experience of most Americans. There are roughly 9 million New Yorkers and roughly 325 million Americans. You do the math.

The audiobook was read by Carly Robins. She did a great job of reading the book, including the nice touch of throwing in a little bit of accent during a Dolly Parton quote.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: SQUEEZED: WHY OUR FAMILIES CAN'T AFFORD AMERICA by Alissa Quart.

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