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The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke Paperback – International Edition, August 17, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Warren, a law professor at Harvard (The Fragile Middle Class) and her daughter Tyagi, a former McKinsey consultant, have joined forces here to argue here that the two-parent middle-class working family is on the brink of financial disaster. The number of families declaring bankruptcy or receiving a foreclosure against their house has shot up dramatically. Presenting carefully researched economic data to support their arguments, the authors contend that, contrary to popular myth, families aren't in trouble because they're squandering their second income on luxuries. On the contrary, both incomes are almost entirely committed to necessities, such as home and car payments, health insurance and children's education costs. When an unforeseen event such as serious illness, job loss or divorce occurs, families have no discretionary income to fall back on. The authors recommend a number of useful societal solutions to get families out of this trap, such as legally prohibiting credit card companies from charging grossly unfair interest rates and exposing banks that employ a loan-to-own strategy that steers minority customers to higher mortgage rates with an eye to future foreclosures. Warren and Tyagi point out that families buy homes they cannot afford in order to live in a neighborhood with better schools. Their proposed solution, however-to institute a public school voucher system with wider choice-is less carefully thought out. Overall, however, this is a needed examination of an emerging social problem.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A startling account of the elusiveness of the American Dream." -- - Time Magazine

"Makes a good case that the epidemic of bankruptcy is not about people being irresponsible." -- - Paul Krugman

"You should read this book!" -- - Dr. Phil

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 255 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (August 18, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465090907
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465090907
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (152 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

This book was so well written and easy to follow I had a hard time putting it down.
D. Nelson
To reiterate the authors' primary point, middle class families are increasingly stretching to buy houses in neighborhoods with good schools.
Graham H. Seibert
I am very disappointed in this book and would not recommend adding it to anyone's reading list.
Michelle Fadeley

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

215 of 226 people found the following review helpful By James Sadler on February 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The mother/daughter team of Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi have written one scary book. What exactly makes this book so frightening? The fact that many of their conclusions are probably correct.
A friend who happens to be a CPA who counsels families in financial trouble told me about this book. She actually is warning her clients not to read it because it paints a fairly bleak and depressing picture. Naturally, after she told me this, I had to read it, even though she was correct, much of the information contained in it is depressing.
For one thing, in many ways the integration of women into the workplace and the rise of the two income family has not had the positive effect one might have hoped it would. Because so many families are now two income dependent they have become trapped and are more financially vulnerable than previous generations. Many families use all of the income they receive from both husband and wife, and barely get by. As a result, any interruption of the income flow can result in disaster. One telling statistic: today's two-income family earns 75% more money than its single-income counterpart of a generation ago, but actually has less discretionary income once their fixed monthly bills are paid.
This is generally blamed on overconsumption and claims that we are a credit card generation that it is paying the price for its free spending ways. And no doubt credit spending has its role in the financial problems of middle America. But Warren and Tyagi make a compelling case that this is not necessarily the whole story. Instead, they propose that the culprit is in large part the ever escalating cost of housing and education in America's suburbs.
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96 of 111 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As a stay-at-home mom who was seriously considering putting my 3 young children in daycare to return to the workforce, I am so glad I read this book first. My husband and I have graduate degrees and yet we just get by each month. It seems absurd that we live paycheck to paycheck on my husband's >$80k salary, but after rent, our one car payment, health insurance, and our utilities we have just enough left over to eat and put gas in the cars. I admit we splurge on Starbucks on the weekend and eat out once or twice a month (nothing fancy, of course). I feel guilty when I buy clothes for the kids (target), go grocery shopping (costco and at least 2 other markets to get the best prices), or get a hair cut (SuperCuts). The fact that we don't have a savings account or own a home drives me crazy and makes me feel like we're financial failures. BUT when even older, fixer-upper homes in our area (San Diego) cost more than $450,000, it seems impossible to save even a 5% down payment just by cutting back on our weekly Starbucks treats. Not to mention we would not even qualify for a loan on a home that price without a 20% down payment. I know, you are saying, "MOVE!". Well, my husband works in biotech and there are a plethora of jobs here and only in a few other places in the U.S. in this field. In addition, our family is here and we rely on their moral support and occasional free babysitting. Some things in life are more important than money. This book erased my guilt and made me see that we aren't the only ones living this middle-class trap. I realize we have to live our lives despite not living up to financial experts' admonitions that one should have a financial safety net or own a home.Read more ›
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183 of 221 people found the following review helpful By K. Johnson VINE VOICE on October 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The financial decline of the middle class families began 30 years ago and continues to this day. So why are they only people that are proposing solutions to this decline academics who do quantitative and qualitative (case study) research, and then propose public policy societal solutions?
Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi have the experience and are appropriate authorities on this phenomenon. They identify the primary reasons of it: fixed expenses. Those expenses which are constant and "come in every month" has increased substantially in the last 3 decades.
Remember in the 1980s when the acronym word "DINK" was in vogue? Double Income No Kids. It may have sounded hip then but DINKS earn less today than one person earned thirty years ago, in 1973.
It is a commonly known fact that middle class two-income earning families have been and still are losing economic ground. And they will continue to lose ground. Warren and Tyagi correctly argue with ample and valid evidence that it's not spending sprees, lavish vacations, or luxury items that are doing it. It's the necessities stupid. Property values supported with gargantuan mortgages are pushing debt ratios beyond the 38% considered the maximum safe and acceptable limit. Housing prices have outpaced wages significantly. Insurance premiums are constant and steady expenses that take a higher percentage of income today than in previous years and they too, are necessities. Education costs have risen dramatically more than wages. What's the American solution? Simply to borrow more money to pay for the higher tuition. Taxes have risen to mammoth proportions and take major chunks out of hard working families hard earned paychecks (taxation is not an issue delved into by the authors.
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