Monday, June 02, 2008

Pg. 99: Nan Mooney's "(Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Nan Mooney's (Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents: The Decline of the Professional Middle Class.

About the book, from the publisher:
How stagnant wages, debt, and escalating costs for tuition, health care, and home ownership are jeopardizing today's educated middle class

Drawing on more than a hundred interviews with diverse families across America, Nan Mooney explores the financial struggles of today's professional middle class, delving into their sense of economic security and their plans for and fears about the future.

Mooney shows how profoundly middle class expectations and realities have shifted: college tuition has increased 35 percent in the past five years; only 18 percent of middle class families have three months' income saved, and 90 percent of those filing for bankruptcy are middle class. Additionally, the share of family income devoted to "fixed costs"—housing, childcare, health insurance, and taxes—has climbed from 53 percent to 75 percent in the past two decades, and raising one child through age eighteen costs $237,000 for a middle-income family.

Despite this sobering reality, Mooney offers proactive and concrete ideas on how individuals and society can stop this downward spiral. She advocates improving government-backed education, healthcare, and childcare programs as well as drawing on successful models from individual states and other countries.

Facts from (Not) Keeping Up with Our Parents

Ninety percent of those filing for bankruptcy today are middle class.

Average college loan debt is nearly $20,000; average graduate school loan debt is $46,000.

Credit card debt has risen 31 percent in the past five years; middle- and low-income households owe an average of $8,650; a third owe over $10,000.

Health care premiums have increased at five times the rate of inflation since 2000.

Mortgages have now reached 96 percent of disposable income.

The median wealth of white households is $86,100, as opposed to $19,010 for black households and $11,450 for Latino households.

Between 1979 and 2003, income for the middle fifth of the population grew just 9 percent, while the income for the top 1 percent jumped by 111 percent.

Twenty-three percent of public college graduates and 38 percent of private college graduates would have an unmanageable level of debt if they were to live on a teacher's starting salary.
Among the early praise for (Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents:
"What happens when the center cannot hold? With great empathy and infectious alarm, Nan Mooney charts the travails of America's middle class in this important book."
—Anya Kamenetz, author of Generation Debt

"If you’re wondering why, in our age of plenty, the financial treadmill keeps moving faster and faster for America’s increasingly educated—and increasingly insecure—middle class, you owe it to yourself to read this book. It’s all here: the big trends, the compelling portraits, the ideas for personal and political change, and the call to arms we so desperately need."
—Jacob S. Hacker, author of The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care and Retirement and How You Can Fight Back

“A book for the distressed and confused because their life plan has gone to pieces. Mooney illuminates what has happened to them—and why.”
—Nicholas Von Hoffman, columnist for NY Observer and regular contributor to The Nation

“This is the kind of book that you wish was fiction. But, as Nan Mooney's incisive new book shows, the fact is that this generation has inherited an economy with too many low-paying, no benefit jobs and an eroding middle class. Millions of young families wonder where they went wrong when, in fact, their economic problems are largely the result of policies that generated higher incomes for a select few and rising economic insecurity for the rest of us. In this timely book, Ms. Mooney pushes us to demand an economy that works for all of us, not just the very wealthy.”
—Heather Boushey, Senior Economist, Center for Economic and Policy Research

"We hear a lot about the runaway wealth of American professionals. In this important book, Nan Mooney reminds us that most have no such luck. Working in jobs they love provides a sense of moral worth, but doesn't cover the bills for teachers, legal aid lawyers, practicing artists, and others. Something has gone wrong in America and this book gives us a grip on the crisis."
—Katherine Newman, coauthor of The Missing Class: Portraits of the Near Poor in America and the Forbes Class of 1941 Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton
Learn more about the book and author at Nan Mooney's website.

Mooney is also the author of I Can’t Believe She Did That: Why Women Betray Other Women at Work and My Racing Heart: The Passionate World of Thoroughbreds and the Track. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Slate, The Daily News, Utne Reader, and other publications.

Read Katharine Mieszkowski's interview with Nan Mooney at Salon.

The Page 99 Test: (Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents.

--Marshal Zeringue