- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Perseus Books Group, Scranton, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. (September 1, 2003)
- ISBN-10: 0465090826
- ASIN: B0002TP1IU
- Package Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 159 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,053,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 1, 2003
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BEFORE the Great Recession, one in seven middle-class couples was on track to go bankrupt. (This book was written in 2003 and re-released in 2016.) The two Warrens explain concisely why that is: endless offers of credit that are piled on when people are in financial trouble, the collapse of state regulation of consumer credit, a bidding war to buy houses in the few desirable school districts. Not everybody who sketches out a problem so comprehensively offers solutions, but the Warrens do. It's just that these are not solutions that isolated families can implement. We need to come together to reform our economy and restore the American Dream.
I will close this review with my favorite paragraph from this book:
"...if you become a parent, we believe that you have an extra duty beyond providing for your child's needs; you also have a duty to speak up. The data in this book show that families cannot protect themselves alone. So write your representatives in Congress, petition your school board, and speak out. There are 63 million parents in America, and with them, you are strong enough to make a difference. If you are to survive financially, you and other parents must band together for change. The survival of your interest group -- parents -- depends on it."
Hope everyone reading this voted, by the way. . .
This very readable book documents the ongoing oppression of families over the last twenty years by investigating the huge increase in bankruptcies. [It is NOT just "personal irresponsibility]. More people go bankrupt than suffer heart attacks, cancer, or divorce! The average two-income family earns far more than the single income family a generation ago, yet have far less discretionary income (p.51). Financial problems are statistically linked with marital problems. Economic forces are battering the American family. The three indicators for bankruptcy are: possible foreclosure on a home, medical bills that can't be paid, credit card debt that can never be paid.
Chapter 2 discusses the Over-Consumption Myth. The average family spends less on clothing and appliances. More at restaurants but less on groceries. Most increased spending went into homes; there has been a huge increase in prices (p.22) due to concerns for safety and education (p.23). In the 1970s most Americans believed schools were as good or better than in earlier times; not today (p.25). [The authors do not investigate what Federal laws caused this.] They give one example on how crime is used to generate housing profits (p.27)! [Does this reflect the restrictions on Second Amendment Rights?] Forcing movement into suburbs creates the need for "a second car" and ultimately benefits Big Oil. The best way to get out of the "Housing Trap" is to improve public education (p.33). If the restrictions between location and schooling were eliminated, there would still be the problem of transportation. [Would those who benefit from the current politics ever allow these changes? You need a new popular political force to change existing laws.] Government-subsidized day care would add more pressure on mothers to join the workforce (p.40); this would lower wages again. Americans view a college degree as the "single most important" thing for success. Faith in higher education is a new secular religion. [Does the college degree correlate with the decline of the middle class: owner operated farms and businesses? Did America prosper and thrive before WW II just by growing crops and making things?]
Chapter 3 explains the economic benefits of non-working mothers as a safety net" caregivers who can reenter the work force as needed. Chapter 4 refutes the charge that bankruptcy is a moral failure. No one chooses to get sick to run up high medical bills, or ship their jobs offshore. You can't run up high credit card bills unless bankers raise your limit. Chapter 5 says single mothers are more likely to file for bankruptcy, an increase of 600%! A divorce splits the assets, but both are 100% responsible for the debts. Divorced fathers who owe child support are more likely to file for bankruptcy. Page 113 charts the changes in personal savings. Chapter 6 explains the debt explosion by the deregulation of banking (p.128). Rising interest rates were followed by increasing bankruptcies. Easy loan money has a hidden price tag (p.133). Some banks issue unaffordable mortgages so they can foreclose and sell the house again! Stores earn more profits from interest and late fees than from selling merchandise (p.144). The Savings & Loan disasters of the late 1970s were caused by the currency devaluation by the Federal Reserve. Deregulation of interest rates caused a massive increase in bankruptcies, but politicians refuse the cure of regulation (p.152).
Chapter 7 is the most important. It says collective action is the most effective remedy and essential for reestablishing economic security for the middle class. Most financial planning books assume steady work, good health, no emergencies. But what if your job is lost? Can you cut back on fixed expenses? Be prepared for an emergency. Beware of long-term financial commitments (p.166). Credit card insurance is useless, your heirs are not required to pay your balance. The authors offer advice for those in deep debt (pp.168-169). Creditors are not your friends. Corporations that file for bankruptcy don't feel guilt. Economic difficulties and family problems like divorce lead to falling test scores, low self-esteem, discipline problems, and depression. American families need to organize to solve their problems (p.180).
The authors, a mother-daughter pair, lay out the case for how women entering the workforce has correlated with an increase in the declarations of bankruptcies by people with children as compared to their predecessors. To be clear, they don't advocate for women to abstain from working or having children, but simply lay out the argument that families with access to the additional income of two earners can place themselves at increased risk of economic collapse simply by chasing the American Dream (a nice house in a good school district, access to good higher education for children, etc.).
While many parts seemed alarmist to me, many of the arguments were well-articulated and well-documented, with some fascinating numbers, excellent debunking of urban legends, and some common sense analysis of contributing factors. Women, especially mothers, will probably particularly relate to the material, since it's admittedly written from the perspective of two mothers (keep in mind, I did really enjoy the book). If nothing else, it made us think.