During the past generation, the American middle-class family that once could count on hard work and fair play to keep itself financially secure has been transformed by economic risk and new realities. Now a pink slip, a bad diagnosis, or a disappearing spouse can reduce a family from solidly middle class to newly poor in a few months.
Middle-class families have been threatened on every front. Rocked by rising prices for essentials as men’s wages remained flat, both Dad and Mom have entered the workforce—a strategy that has left them working harder just to try to break even. Even with two paychecks, family finances are stretched so tightly that a very small misstep can leave them in crisis. As tough as life has become for married couples, single-parent families face even more financial obstacles in trying to carve out middle-class lives on a single paycheck. And at the same time that families are facing higher costs and increased risks, the old financial rules of credit have been rewritten by powerful corporate interests that see middle-class families as the spoils of political influence.