Large, systemic, interlocking forces have caused immense change in the US economy over the last several decades. That’s obvious, as such changes are happening constantly — national economies are never still — but this book simplifies a 3000 piece puzzle into a 6 piece one, and in this case, that’s a good thing. The 3000 pieces are still vaguely visible here, like the blurry background of portrait mode, but they’ve been grouped intelligently so the average person can see the one clear shape in the foreground.
As school quality became less consistent, desirable housing became more scarce, which caused a bidding war on houses in good school districts. (The definition of “good” and all the forces of racism and classism that influence that definition are subsumed by the whole 3000-piece to 6-piece thing. For analysis of -isms, this is not the book you are looking for.) That bidding war (and other factors, again subsumed by this book’s aim at simplicity) increased the incentive for families to send both parents into the workforce, which caused a feedback loop still in operation today. Even if you want to keep one parent at home, houses — especially the most desirable ones — cost more than one income now.
But here’s the thing. One parent at home was the safety net. With both parents at work and that dual income used to the max to afford the house in the right school district, more families were on the edge, and when job loss or serious illness or divorce or crisis of any kind arrived, they fell over that edge into bankruptcy.
And more dominoes fall as bankruptcies rise. Voter engagement? Parent engagement? Tax base for governments to run? Those all suffer when citizens are bankrupt. I doubt any of this is revolutionary to someone plugged into the issue, but as someone who has a solid understanding of the micro-forces at work with income inequality, I really appreciated how well this book explained the macro-forces for me. The writing is so straightforward and simple as to be almost boring, but writers didn’t write this book. Educators did, and I think they knew what they were doing. By the end, I was making comparisons between our economic system and It’s that kids’ book, “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie,” which ironically feels hopeful to me, because surely there is one step in that endless loop that we can interrupt.