Down the Up Escalator
Barbara Garson tells the stories of Americans who have lost jobs – and hope – during the Great Recession.
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Then there are the men. Feldman, previously a very busy graphics designer, was finding that even temp work was scarce. Kevin, who'd been an editor at a trade journal, was struggling because he felt employers preferred hiring recent graduates to experienced professionals in their 50s.Skip to next paragraph
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Garson is an excellent storyteller. And she's a good listener – even, apparently, in this book when interviewing individuals involved in the type of financial manipulation that yanked our economy to its knees.
But one inherent weakness of a collection like this is that it can't possibly tell the full story of what's happened to working families. And even during the recession, many people continued to do just fine. Meanwhile, Garson spends a lot of time talking to New Yorkers and Californians, whose crises represent only part of the picture.
So I particularly liked her profile of the Kenny family in Evansville, Ind. Some may disagree with the description Garson provides of Evansville, as a hollowed-out small city where many traditional employers have left. But it's certainly true that manufacturers have largely disappeared from American cities, resulting in reduced employment prospects for many.
The dad here works for a Big Box retailer that is pressuring him in nasty ways to retire early so they can hire a younger, cheaper worker. And the adult son – an intelligent young man who in another place and time would find plenty of work – designs Grateful Dead T-Shirts.
The senior Kenny provides an illustration of a worker who has labored diligently but has little to show for it. "[S]tarting around the mid-1970s," Garson says, "the wealth gap widened while hourly wages stagnated or declined." She argues that, "Between 1976 and 2007, 58 percent of every new dollar of income generated went to the top 1 percent of households."
Now it's 2013; stock prices have rebounded, many people have found jobs, and the housing crisis has receded. But our unemployment rate remains high, and as Garson's anecedotal examination of the American economy would suggest, millions of individuals and families are still hurting.
Garson asks at the end of her book: "How many times can we emerge [from a recession] with the rich richer, the poor poorer, and more of the middle class marginalized? ... What happens to a market economy when all the money winds up in one pocket?"
Garson's book clearly doesn't provide a balanced view, and the stories she presents are more a stream-of-consciousness-style effort than a scientific sampling. Yet her book of stories is a convincing effort to show that the recession was part of ongoing restructuring – a restructuring at least partially motivated by greed – that is making it hard for many Americans to ride up the economic escalator.