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High Wire: The Precarious Financial Lives of American Families Hardcover – June 3, 2008

4.8 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. L.A. Times economics correspondent Gosselin outlines the current economic situation of American families in light of specific policies initiated since the stalled economy of the 1970s. Today, Gosselin finds, fewer households are likely to fall into financial ruin, but those who do experience layoffs, expensive medical problems, foreclosure or other financial strain have a much harder time bouncing back, as old social safety nets have been systematically unraveled. Gosselin argues that in today's economy, families and individuals are assuming an unprecedented amount of financial risk; another aspect of the new economy is that upper-middle class families are at just as much risk as the less well-off. Each chapter takes an in-depth look at a different facet of the economy, healthcare, retirement, education and rebuilding New Orleans among them. Gosselin also discusses "unjobs," short-term and freelance gigs secured by an increasingly desperate labor force, and the new indispensability of two-income households. Though scholarly, Gosselin's writing is effortlessly readable, bolstered by anecdotes from real people facing financial adversity. Packed with insight and understanding, this no-nonsense look at the present and future of the American Dream should be of interest to any wage-earner or salary-man.
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"Meticulously researched and written with verve, "High Wire" is a rare masterpiece of chilling logic about mounting economic risks in our families, our homes, and our jobs. All Americans should read this book."--Peter Bernstein, economic consultant and author of "Against The Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk" "Nothing I've read better explains these fundamental contemporary American anxieties than 'High Wire.'"--"St. Louis Post Dispatch" "Voters will face a choice between a Democrat who talks about alleviating the risks bearing down on lower- and middle-income Americans and a Republican who, in effect, promises to continue the Bush administration's economic policies. Voters confused about how this choice affects their daily lives should read Gosselin's book from cover to cover."--"New York Times Book Review" "Gosselin weaves economic research, intimate portraits of average Americans, and the products of some old-fashioned digging into a compelling narrative. Like Jacob Hacker's 2006 "The Great Risk Shift," Gosselin's book is an investigation into the gradual tearing of America's social safety net, from inadequate health insurance to pension plans with holes."--"Business Week" "Peter Gosselin writes movingly of the personal wreckage endured by many Americans in today's volatile economy."--"Los Angeles Times" "A rigorously researched and well-written analysis of the economic challenges facing many Americans."--"Boston Globe" "[Gosselin's] writing is made more meaningful by use of real personalities to illustrate problems, putting a human face to the new reality of financial upheaval. His book should be imperativereading for anyone concerned about financial woes and their causes.--"Oklahoman " .,."excellent and thoughtful..."--"New York Review of Books"

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First edition (June 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465002250
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465002252
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,215,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a GREAT book and I would encourage every citizen of America to read it, young or old. It's actually a hair-raising book. Well researched and each chapter has a personal, true life story of a family or individual that has been challenged with the topic being discussed.

Since the other reviews to date go over the book, I want to share what I took from it. First, I got out all my insurance policies after reading the chapters on how the insurance industry has slowly & slyly sandbagged us consumers. I read them with a fine tooth comb and voila! wouldn't you know it - just like the author said they were doing, well that is what they are doing. Sneaky company (and this is one of the Big Three property/casualty companies in California and the rest of the country) well guess what, they did exactly what the author said they were doing - changing the terms of the policy in such a way that the ordinary consumer, you & me, who (unfortunately) trust our agents so well ... are/were clueless that this got by us. Yep they changed me from the Guaranteed Replacement coverage on my home to the Limited Replacement + some percentage of cost overrun. And it got by me and I'm pretty smart (at least I thought I was). Just as it has probably gotten by most of you too. I called my agent last month and he told me it was the best policy money could by, Limited but with a 150% total replacement ratio, and furthermore the company I was considering replacing them with, well they had a reputation of quoting low and then next year WHAM they would sock it to me. I don't think so because that company is the one used exclusively by AARP and I just don't think AARP would stand for that kind of treatment. But back to my agent .. funny, but my policy said ... 125%.
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Format: Hardcover
High Wire is a great book for two reasons. First, it presents a wealth of statistical and anecdotal evidence documenting the additional risk that many of us have sensed we are shouldering even in the best of times. Second, it does so in a reasoned, even-handed fashion that liberals and conservatives alike should find persuasive.

Among financial journalists, Gosselin stands out as a passionate moderate. He acknowledges the benefits that 25 years of market-focused policy changes have spread across the U.S. economy--faster growth, higher productivity, lower unemployment among them. But he perceives more clearly than most the trade-offs those policy changes have forced upon us--diminished pay and benefits, less secure retirements and a substantially increased risk of individual and familial catastrophe.

It's a scary portrait, but Gosselin has not lost faith. For nearly four centuries, he notes, American have been striving to strike the right balance between personal opportunity and mutual obligation. The past 25 years represent a pendulum swing that appears to have carried us well past the midpoint. Restoring balance to the system will require accurate data, perceptive analysis--and courage to change. In one book, Gosselin has served up plenty of each.
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Format: Hardcover
Gosselin's "High Wire" asserts that over the past quarter-century the "ownership society" is becoming the "on-your-own society," contrary to the thinking behind the Mayflower Compact that united everyone for the common good.

Insurance is Gosselin's biggest target, and anecdotal evidence provided by actual Americans his vehicle. Private sector health insurers were exempted from professional liability due to ERISA (1974) rulings, state laws notwithstanding. Thus, these insurers have every incentive to delay and with-hold payments, and plaintiff attorneys little/no incentive to sue for damages. Similarly, homeowners (about 60%) are often surprised to find their home insurance scaled back from "guaranteed replacement cost" to "extended replacement cost" ($X + Y%), while others find coverage unavailable at any cost. Finally, pensions are increasingly threatened by the vagaries of the stock market, coupled with the time and information demands associated with it. (Gosselin documents that even Nobel Prize winners in economics do take the time to do so.)

Gosselin's most alarming revelation, however, is the fact that the odds of a family seeing an income drop of 50% or more during any 2-year interval have gone from about 5% in the 1970s to about 9% in the 2000's. The pattern is the same for all ages, income levels, and amount of education. Further, the average size workplace slid 18% during the same period; 50% in L.A. - smaller firms have always had weaker job and benefit security.

Clearly there are fewer stable jobs and sources of reliable benefits. Gosselin also emphasizes that a college education is less than touted.
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Format: Hardcover
As we choose our next President, Peter Gosselin zeroes in on issues that have essentialy been ignored since the early 1980's and which need to be brought to the forefront of the political discourse. The book begins with the Mayflower compact and reminds us that America's greatness has been built on shared responsibility. Sadly, our nation has drifted from its moorings as we have lost much of the social safety net that was so carefully built beginning with the Progressive era and continuing through the Great Depression. That safety net protected Americans and set them on a course of unparalleled prosperity following World War II.

As Peter Gosselin points out, that safety net has been frayed and the compact broken. We hear much talk about the uninsured in America, but High Wire illustrates that even those who are fortunate to have insurance might only have a lottery ticket that may or may not lead to coverage when disaster strikes. Same for homeowners insurance and the same principle has also broken the compact that built American business where hard work and dedication is rewarded by an appreciative employer.

High Wire is a call for leadership by our next President and our other elected representatives at the federal, state and local levels and a manual for those leaders, pointing out the failures of today and outlining the necessary fixes for tomorrow.
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