TBR: Strapped

Today’s book is Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead, by Tamara Draut.  In many ways, this book could be called The Two-Income Trap, Jr.  Like Warren and Tyagi, Draut analyzes the ways that families today get into economic trouble through little fault of their own, with wages failing to keep up with the spiraling costs of housing, health insurance, and child care.  The hook is that Draut focuses on the experiences of young adults, 20-34, and compares their (our) experiences to those of the Boomers in the 60s and 70s.

The most convincing part of Draut’s case is her discussion of the rising costs of college, the diminishing availability of grants to cover those costs, and the ways that student loans hang over young people’s lives.  She also writes persuasively of the ways that lower-income students’ educational options are limited because of their reluctance or inability to take on that debt burden.

Nicholas Von Hoffman had an article in the Nation a bit back where he argued that the increased cost of education is a form of social control, forcing young people to focus their energies on earning money rather than fomenting social change or following their dreams.  I’m not sure I think it’s a deliberate plot, but I do think there’s a lot of truth to the story.  At my reunion, the Dean gave a speech in which he said that they did a study of the career paths of graduates.  Of those who left without student loans, he said, 95 percent took first jobs in the public or nonprofit sectors.  Of those who had more than $80,000 in loans, only 45 percent took first jobs in those sectors.

Draut’s argument becomes less convincing in other chapters where she lumps together the struggles of a teacher hoping to have an apartment to himself one day and an affluent couple buying a home in suburban Connecticut.  They both may be living paycheck to paycheck, but that’s the extent of their similarities.  And while this generation may be struggling compared to the Boomers, it is NOT the first generation in history not to be as well off as their parents.   Living with your parents was the norm for unmarried young adults for most of history; the recent increase isn’t really a sign of the collapse of the American economy.

Draut is the director of the Economic Opportunity Program at Demos.  The book ends with a chapter of proposals for how to solve these problems (expanded student aid, support for unions, paid parental leave), many of which I agree with, but none of which will convince anyone who doesn’t already support them.

3 Responses to “TBR: Strapped”

  1. Mieke Says:

    Senator Harkin was just talking about this on Saturday. He went to college on loans (with 1% interest) and to law school on the GI bill. He paid virtually nothing for his education. He says a large part of the Democratic agenda will be pushing to get that back for all Americans. Though Salle Mae seems to be buying everyone on both sides of the aisle off so I am not hopeful they’ll succeed.
    If they let the drug companies manipulate the Congress into forbidding medicare from negotiating better rates, why do we think it will work for education. When the hell are Americans going to stand up and demand money get out of this and that politicians start working for the people they were elected to help? Where is the fury?

  2. Mrs. Ewer Says:

    My perspective as a 23-year old is here

  3. Christine Says:

    One thing that the baby boomers did not have to deal with is all this unnecessary materialism and misguided priorities. As a 30-something, college professor I have dealt with many a student telling me that they can not afford supplies, yet I see them with cell-phones, video games and an expensive social life. I just think that many people in their 20s and 30s do not ask themselves, ‘Do I really need this to live?’ Credit card companies are all too easily lining up along college campuses. Ofcouse this entire issue is more complex than I am stating. Another thing I have noticed is that many parents of kids are also struggling to survive and there is a lack of a safety net. Education seems to be turning back into a luxury when it is such a necessity in the world.

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