In a lot of ways I was really looking for this book, and I didn’t know it. It’s ostensibly a deep dive into the American middle class, by way of 1990 or so, and it IS this, but it’s really a book about the ways in which the middle class (the perception of it, the reality of it, and the fences put around middle class life) controls so much of our understanding of money in America. If we live in a place now where the ultra rich ultimately control everything, maybe none of this matters, but I would argue that it didn’t matter almost as much in 1990 when this book was written. For me, this is less a question about controlling the destiny of the country, but how to maximize the good that the country can do within the amount of good the country is willing to do. I have some fatalism about the country now that I probably wouldn’t have had when I was 25 or so. I am older now, have a little more to protect in a really modest life I’ve carved out with my family, and as I have ZERO wealth, my defensiveness about this comes with the idea, that I feel like I was just able to get out of icy water. I am not defending my position, and it’s yet to be determined if I am “middle class” in the classifications this book puts out. But like Ehrenreich, I have a job that does not produce or make money (and might in a crooked way be considered service) and so my anxiety is very similar to the anxieties she speaks of here. Because the entirety of where I am right now is predicated on my education, my skill, my talent, and mostly my luck in applying these for a sustainable job, I have gotten somewhere, but that could easily all go away.
The book tackles many of the important topics this anxiety encapsulates. It completely undercuts several lines of attack that both support and weaponize middle class anxiety (against youth, against the poor, against radicalism) and provides a good concise ways. It’s sadly still quite relevant