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Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead Hardcover – January 17, 2006

3.3 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It's hard to believe: "Today's college grads are making less than the college grads of thirty years ago." In fact, men aged 25 to 34 with bachelor's degrees are making just $6,000 more than those with high school diplomas did in 1972. This is just one of the many shocking statistics uncovered by Draut, a think-tank adviser and media pundit, in this incisive and revealing look at why today's young adults find financial independence so difficult. With catchy terms such as "debt-for-diploma" and "paycheck paralysis," Draut shows why this age group's ability to accomplish the traditional adult markers of school, career and family is stagnating. Her presentation features the one-two punch of well-sourced data and a series of stories from a diverse group of interview subjects to prove her thesis that depressed wages, inflated educational costs, soaring credit card debt and skyrocketing health and child-care expenses present nearly insurmountable obstacles to young adults' success. While Draut's conclusions take conservative politicians to task, they are hardly polemical, and her analysis and solutions are refreshingly free of glib how-to advice. Her book should be a jarring wake-up call to both the generation affected most by the current economic reality and the policy makers facing the consequences for decades to come. (Jan.)
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Review

Praise for Strapped

Strapped tells a story that is compelling, frightening, and ultimately liberating. By giving a clear analysis of what has gone wrong, Draut points the way to how to make it better. This is a must-read for anyone who is young—or anyone who cares about anyone who is young.”
—Elizabeth Warren, Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law, Harvard University, co-author of The Two-Income Trap

“Tamara Draut’s meticulously researched book explains why the transition to adulthood has become almost impossibly difficult for the children of low- and middle-income families. Her highly readable account of bad policy choices and changing market forces will persuade you that this problem demands our immediate attention.”
—Robert Frank, Henrietta Johnson Louis Professor of Management, Cornell University, author of Luxury Fever

“It’s no time to be 21, and we have Tamara Draut to thank for describing to us, in precise detail, the forces arrayed against young people—and what can be done to alleviate the situation.”
– Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter With Kansas?

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (January 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385515057
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385515054
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,350,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I'm a working student. I can tell you that outreach to underrepresented students is not behind the double digit percentage increases in tuition. Try static supply and increasing demand. Try corruption.

Draut's thesis is simple: making a living and becoming an "adult" according to certain criteria (education, house, baby) is drastically more expensive now than it was several decades ago. Since the 70s, American productivity has skyrocketed and wages have flatlined or regressed. Let's face it, an undergraduate degree is the modern day equivalent of what the high school diploma used to be.

Instead of questioning why this might be the case (uh, health insurance anyone?), some folks want to put the blame squarely on the (not just young) people who get hit with these costs--"the me generation," "entitlement," and the mother of all conservative memes, "personal responsibility." Hey, individual choice and systemic change AREN'T the same thing.

Draut doesn't argue that people should spend beyond their means, or not try to pinch pennies to survive. Instead, she looks at the damage caused by "free market fundamentalism": disintegrating social cohesion, rigidifying class mobility, a health care catastrophe, the casualization of the workforce ("contingent workers make up 33% of the workforce") etc. "Today," she writes writes, "In the midst of historic income inequality, our nation's primary engine of social mobility, education, is broken."

"Back in 1972, the typical male high school graduate earned just $42,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars," she writes elsewhere, "Three decades later, male high school graduates in this age group [25-34] are earning just over $29,000.
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Format: Paperback
As a non-socialist European I have rejected the idea of a "Nanny State", I think that all able bodied people have an individual responsibility to oneself, one's family and society, to maintain independence for the betterment of the whole. That said I have always believed wholeheartedly that the government should secure for its citizens two things: Education and Health, the rest is up to the individual. As I see it, the idea of a socialized system in America is completely unviable, it is simply not in the psyche of America to accept it. BUT the government does have a responsibility to supply its citizens with affordable health care and education. This is clearly not happening.
It is far more expensive to pursue education in the US than it is in the UK because there are no private schools in the UK and the government caps tuition heavily to prevent an economic elite. Although there are problems related to class and race distinction, a student would not be rejected because of an inability to pay; the colleges are simply not permitted to charge their students tens of thousands of dollars a year to gain a degree. We still end up in debt to some degree because of high living costs but the loan companies are again regulated by the government to prevent high interest rates, the payments are deferred until the student is in full time work and the payments are percentage proportional to earnings. i.e. you pay back what you can afford.

As a 30 year old Brit married to a 35 year old American and living in DC, we are the epitome of the GenX demographic. The big difference is that we took a very different path from the examples described in Draut's book. Gaining my degree in the UK I was stunned at the total lack of guidance that young adults are given in America.
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Tamara Draut's premise can be summed up this way: Every child is entitled to a college (bachelor's degree) and that education should be free. She defines a middle class lifestyle as one where a bachelor's degree is part of the package. Much of the book is devoted to anecdotal stories about young adults who were sold on the standard propaganda that getting a good job means getting a good education, but she never questions the wisdom of this view. She seems to think that all of our problems would be solved if we could make higher education more accessible and affordable, while at the same time suggesting a bachelor's degree has become the new high school diploma. The irony, of course, is that if we did make college affordable it would further erode the value of a bachelor's degree.

The first error in her logic is to associate a middle class lifestyle with a college education. Blue-collar workers stand to fare much better economically than many college graduates. Electricians, plumbers, even locksmiths are in such strong demand they will never find themselves "downsized" or outsourced. These workers enjoy full protections from employer abuse under the Fair Labor Standards Act for overtime compensation, lunch breaks, etc., while so-called "exempt" white collar workers can be worked 24/7 with no overtime or breaks.

Draut fails to address other obvious issues like whether or not employers really value expensive bachelor's degrees. A Target store manager once told me that the applications from college graduates aren't even considered, "they go right in the trash." In other words, a college degree can make you less employable.
The US is creating far more low skill, low wage jobs than high skill, high wage.
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