Recently, I went to my local library. there, among the books by Richard Florida, Mark Levin, and at least three Ann Coulter’s, stood out one I read years before; Pinched by Atlantic’s deputy editor Don Peck. It came out in 2011 and, at the time, I wrote a review of it for the Yahoo Contributor Network. While for some reason I could not google the finished product, I discovered on an old flash drive one of my drafts for it so here it is.
In Pinched, How the Great Recession has narrowed our futures and what we can do about it, Don Peck looks at what has happened in the last three years with the economy; and how it has changed the way we live, work, and how we identify ourselves.
He doesn’t say anything that others, such as Paul Krugman or Kevin Phillips had alluded to in their work, but he does organize things in a clear, concise manner and backs them up with the real life experiences of everyday people. From a former construction foreman only recently found steady work after losing his job in 2008 to the president of a homeowner’s association in Florida development ravages by the foreclosure crisis, Peck gives the reader an idea of how most people are struggling with the new economic situation in America.
Mr. Peck also went to the Aspen Ideas Festival where those unaffected by the Recession talked about social issues, policy problems; and as he puts it “a near-total insularity from the non-elites, and a personal detachment from the struggles of other Americans (pg. 115). He devotes full chapters on the plutonomy, a term three analysts came up with in a paper for the wealthy few as at Aspen, to Generation R, those recent college graduates who end up unemployed and living back at home. However, Peck examines every level of American society on how economic downturns, and not just the recent one, seriously affect people for years.
There is one paragraph that resonates with me. He interviews the economist Lisa Kahn who has done studies on how economic downturns affect an individual’s subsequent career. “When Kahn looks more closely at the unlucky graduates at mid-career, she found some surprising characteristics. They were significantly less likely to work in professional occupations or other prestigious spheres. And they clung more tightly to their jobs; average job tenure was unusually long. People who entered the workforce during the recession ‘didn’t switch jobs as much, and particularly for young workers, that’s how you increase wages,’ Kahn told me. This behavior may have resulted from a lingering risk aversion, born of a tough start. But a lack of opportunities may have played a larger role, she said, when you’re forced to start work in a particularly low-level job or uneasy career, it’s easy for other employers to dismiss you as having low potential. Moving up, or moving to something different and better, becomes more difficult.” (pgs. 64-65).
This is a more wide-spread phenomenon than I ever imagined. I know that, if I understood this in 2004, perhaps I wouldn’t have given up on my like as I did for half of the last decade. Yes, Pinched hits me on a personal level; very few books have done that.
As for possible measures to address this present state, Peck does mention a few good things. Some, such as campaign finance reform and unemployment insurance, have been mentioned by other people before (such as Robert Reich), and possibly make far too much sense to even be discussed in Congress let alone passed.
However, Pinched is definitely worthwhile reading and makes you think. Mr. Peck sums up his hopes best with one paragraph towards the end of the book. He believes that,
“A society in which the different classes jostle more frequently alongside one another-living in the same communities and cities, harboring the same hopes and expectations for their children-is inherently healthier than one in which they are segregated physically and split by cultural norms. Broader exposure to one another would foster the ideals of civic equality and equal opportunity that are our cultural bedrock.” (pgs. 186-187).
I couldn’t write it better myself.
A lot has happened in the nearly six years since it was first published. The polarization we’re faced with today is in some ways even worse than when Peck wrote this book. One can also argue that, on November 7th 2016, the plutonomy won after all, and I don’t just mean by Donald Trump becoming president.Yet, Pinched seems worth re-reading so that’s what I am about to do.