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Welcome to the WhoWhatWhy Podcast.

Jul 30, 2018

“It’s the economy, stupid.” Those words have become ingrained into our politics. But seldom have we seen such a disconnect between raw data, the kind that President Donald Trump bragged about on Friday, and the economy people are actually living in.

Journalist Alissa Quart, in her new book Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America, went looking for the real America. In this WhoWhatWhy podcast she talks to Jeff Schechtman about what she found.

She discovered an America that is a far cry from one where anyone is jumping up and down over a 4.1 percent GDP increase in a single quarter. In fact, after ten years of steady growth, which began during the Obama presidency, the overhang of the Great Recession as well as some negative employment and economic trends that started before the recession are still with us.

Wages have been stagnant, housing costs continue to go up, health care costs continue to rise, education requires more and more debt, and self employment and the gig economy have not helped. All of this is before we are even really feeling the full impact of automation and AI.


Quart argues that we have to reassess what we value in society. Instead of being so happy at the lower cost of consumer goods — like our phones, computers, and TVs — we need to be far more concerned that the cost of basic necessities like healthcare, child care, senior care, education, and housing have skyrocketed.

Quart reminds us that this is not a problem limited to the uneducated. She talks to Schechtman about the plight of professors, school teachers, health professionals, and journalists.

According to statistics, kids today have only a 50/50 chance of doing better than their parents.

Equally striking is how few of these would-be members of the middle class are politically engaged. They’re exhausted from just getting from bind to bind.

Many are cobbling together patchwork solutions, like co-living arrangements and shared child care. But, Quart explains, for those struggling, a lot of time is often spent watching the 1 percent on television viewing a kind of “aspirational porn.”

Maybe that’s also how Trump got a toehold with so many of these same people.

Before you hear the next boastful presidential report on the economy, this is a must listen.

Alissa Quart is the author of Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America (Ecco Press, June 26, 2018).

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