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The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are Going Broke (2003)

de Elizabeth Warren, Amelia Warren Tyagi

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3731652,538 (3.96)3
In this revolutionary exposé, Harvard Law School bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren and financial consultant Amelia Tyagi show that today's middle-class parents are increasingly trapped by financial meltdowns. Astonishingly, sending mothers to work has made families more vulnerable to financial disaster than ever before. Today's two-income family earns 75% more money than its single-income counterpart of a generation ago, but has 25% less discretionary income to cover living costs. This is "the rare financial book that sidesteps accusations of individual wastefulness to focus on institutional changes," raved theBoston Globe. Warren and Tyagi reveal how the ferocious bidding war for housing and education has silently engulfed America's suburbs, driving up the cost of keeping families in the middle class. The authors show why the usual remedies-child-support enforcement, subsidized daycare, and higher salaries for women-won't solve the problem. But as theWall Street Journal observed, "The book is brimming with proposed solutions to the nail-biting anxiety that the middle class finds itself in: subsidized day care, school vouchers, new bank regulation, among other measures." From Senator Edward M. Kennedy to Dr. Phil to Bill Moyers,The Two-Income Trap has created a sensation among economists, politicians, and families-all those who care about America's middle-class crisis.… (més)
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With all the talk about Elizabeth Warren running for president, I decided to revisit The Two-Income Trap, a book that has had a very mixed reception amongst my circle of friends. (Disclosure, in case you think I am personally biased: I am a stay at home mother of two.)

This was published in 2003, which presents a problem for a review: Was the assessment correct at the time, and how well has it held up since? The short answer is mixed, for both of them. Essentially, the premise is this: the two income trap is faced by dual income middle class families because both incomes are committed to basic, fixed expenses, but they face nearly double the level of risk of job loss or other crisis, meaning the loss of one income is financially devastating. This is neutral as far as it goes, and can be demonstrated statistically.

The first problem is that they frames it as a competition. In Warren and Tyagi's view, dual income families have driven up the price of middle class life, principally housing in good school districts. Two income families are able to outspend single income families, thereby driving up the need for two incomes. The sense is that they view families as being pitted against each other in a war for scarce resources.

For a pair of working women in the 2000s, their views of women's roles are surprisingly simplistic. They principally ascribe women's income as providing an "economic edge"--a surplus to the man's income.

It was refreshing to see an acknowledgement of the economic value of unpaid labor provided by stay at home mothers, but even here, the details were shallow. The value of a stay at home mother is principally in the labor she provides. Its absence creates a void that must be filled--as acknowledged in the discussion of caretaking, though not her other domestic labor--but also historically has enabled men to work more, knowing their wife will pick up the slack. While Warren and Tyagi are aware of the racial disparities in working women, it gets only a glancing mention, which would not be acceptable today.

Worse, the other economic arguments of women's decisions to work are breezed over in ways that were a problem 16 years ago. They extol the potential of a stay at home mother's ability to act as a safety net in times of crisis, because her economic potential is still untapped. But you can't do that without considering how likely it is that she'll be able to bring in income. Similarly, the value of building a career is waved off because being a working woman doesn't protect you after divorce.

The proposed solutions for dealing with housing simply don't meet the smell test after the past 15 years. While middle class parents still chase desirable schools, it's also become clear that a major issue is the basic supply of housing and the overall inequality of American schooling. The problems here cannot be solved, as they suggest, by vouchers or a public school choice system.

The basic analysis that the trap is driven by spending on essentials, not luxuries, is sound and has been borne out since--even more so, given wage stagnation and rapid increases in the prices of housing, healthcare, and education. If the book were written today, more attention would be paid to the role of healthcare expenses and medical debt in driving families into bankruptcy.

There are some errors that really puzzled me--for example, stating that America "cannot afford huge subsidies for middle class housing," which ignores that we do just that through the creation of the 30 year fixed mortgage and the mortgage interest deduction on taxes. There's also a dismissal of government funded daycare because it "only helps two income families", ignoring the impact of price on quality. To their credit they later do briefly mention quality and that childcare is inherently valuable, but it's a bizarre thing to say. They encourage tax breaks for saving, but don't pay enough attention to the fact that middle class families don't have enough to save.

The work on bankruptcy and credit is, unsurprisingly, the strongest, and holds up the best, despite changes in laws and trends. This was Warren's core work, and she knows it well. She's clear about what drives personal bankruptcy (not irresponsibility) and the danger done by predatory lenders. The origins of the CFPB are clear here, though her proposed regulations may lean a little to the paternalistic and her proposal to restrict mortgage lending requires a lot more analysis for impact. It would be very interesting to redo a lot of this research post subprime crisis, with the continuing spiral in house prices in competitive markets that appears to be a supply issue, not just a credit issue.

Overall, the book is a really odd mix of liberal policy with surprisingly conservative analysis that doesn't go deep enough. Warren and Tyagi were clearly trying to write a popular book, not a scholarly one, but the thesis deserved a deeper treatment. ( )
  arosoff | Jul 11, 2021 |
Tyagi, Amelia Warren (Author)
  LOM-Lausanne | Apr 29, 2020 |
This book was written in 2003. Elizabeth Warren didn't predict the subprime mortgage lending crisis and subsequent economic meltdown, but she was already fully aware that it was destroying the financial well-being of middle-class families. When the markets crashed in 2008, I -- like many people -- tried to make sense out of what happened, and assumed that we were all poor shmucks misled by a secretive cabal of bankers. But Warren was one of those people who were loudly gesturing toward something and everyone ignored it. Anyway, in summary: good book, great points, and Elizabeth Warren for president 2020. ( )
1 vota cityslicker | Nov 10, 2019 |
Well written description of two-income economics and the downward spiral of middle class families, particularly for women with children. Unlike many such tomes, Warren offers practical, direct actions which families can follow, as well as needed (though unlikely) congressional actions. ( )
  cfk | Feb 2, 2019 |
Wow, I read this book before Warren was the front runner in politics. She articulated the two income trap brilliantly. I moved my family to single income family neighborhood. It is wrong the school system is based on property taxes. ( )
  BillRob | Jan 11, 2019 |
Es mostren 1-5 de 16 (següent | mostra-les totes)
The middle class group of people certainly has a lot of reading to do. This book covers so many aspects on why bankruptcy and financial struggles are so rampant these days. However, there are far deeper root causes to this situation, and it takes a clear understanding of the situations provided in the book to be able to point out the methods in which we can rise above it all. It’s never easy having to deal with financial dearth, and the writer certainly has taken a lot of effort to explain in detail why we’re undergoing these situations. Of course, one can always find a temporary solution in the form of a payday loan, but sometimes you would need to think long term so as to not constantly go through these challenges regularly.
 
This has long been an issue among organizations these days who employ females as part of their staff. Politics and economics aside, there’s also the case of wage discrimination against female workers. There are many employers out there who are sexist and feel that a woman has no place in a man’s world, regardless of how old fashioned that perception is. Therefore, their pay gets affected to a great extent. Until President Obama’s bill on equal pay gets officially recognized by every company in the United States, there’s always a pay day loan to fall back on when the financial situation of women everywhere seems too dire to ever rise up from.
 

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Tyagi, Amelia Warrenautor principaltotes les edicionsconfirmat
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This book is dedicated to all parents who
wake up with hearts thudding over the possibility
that buying school shoes and Girl Scout uniforms
will mean that there won't be enough left over to
pay the mortgage. These people are our neighbors,
our brothers and sisters, our coworkers.
They travel anonymously among us, but we know them.
They went to college, had kids, bought a home, played
by the rules—and lost. It is time to rewrite the rules
so that these families are winners again.
Primeres paraules
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Ruth Ann smiles when she talks about the summer she was pregnant with Ellie.
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In this revolutionary exposé, Harvard Law School bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren and financial consultant Amelia Tyagi show that today's middle-class parents are increasingly trapped by financial meltdowns. Astonishingly, sending mothers to work has made families more vulnerable to financial disaster than ever before. Today's two-income family earns 75% more money than its single-income counterpart of a generation ago, but has 25% less discretionary income to cover living costs. This is "the rare financial book that sidesteps accusations of individual wastefulness to focus on institutional changes," raved theBoston Globe. Warren and Tyagi reveal how the ferocious bidding war for housing and education has silently engulfed America's suburbs, driving up the cost of keeping families in the middle class. The authors show why the usual remedies-child-support enforcement, subsidized daycare, and higher salaries for women-won't solve the problem. But as theWall Street Journal observed, "The book is brimming with proposed solutions to the nail-biting anxiety that the middle class finds itself in: subsidized day care, school vouchers, new bank regulation, among other measures." From Senator Edward M. Kennedy to Dr. Phil to Bill Moyers,The Two-Income Trap has created a sensation among economists, politicians, and families-all those who care about America's middle-class crisis.

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