Cover image for Losing our way : an intimate portrait of a troubled America
Title:
Losing our way : an intimate portrait of a troubled America
Author:
Herbert, Bob, 1945-
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, [2014]
Physical Description:
283 pages ; 25 cm
Summary:
"In a searing indictment of America's decline, former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert profiles struggling Americans--casualties of decades of government policies that have produced underemployment, inequality, and pointless wars--and offers a ringing call to arms to restore justice and the American dream. The United States needs to be reimagined. Once described by Lincoln as the last best hope on earth, the country seemed on the verge of fulfilling its immense promise in the mid 1960s and early 1970s: unemployment was low, wages and profits were high, and the nation's wealth--by today's standards--was distributed in a remarkably equitable fashion. America was a society confident that it could bring a middle-class standard of living (at the very least) and the full rights of citizenship to virtually everyone. This sense of possibility has evaporated. In this book longtime New York Times columnist Bob Herbert combines devastating stories of suffering Americans with keen political analysis to show where decades of corporate greed, political apathy, and short-term thinking have led: America's infrastructure is crumbling, our schools fail our children, unnecessary wars maim our young men, and underemployment plagues a generation. He traces how the United States went wrong, exposing the slow, dangerous shift of political influence from the working population in the 1960s to the corporate and financial elite today, who act largely in their own self-interest. But the situation isn't entirely hopeless. Herbert argues that by tapping the creative ideas of people across the country who are implementing solutions at the local level, the middle class can reassert its power, put the economy back on track, and usher in a new progressive era"--

"The United States needs to be reimagined. Once described by Lincoln as the last best hope on earth, the country seemed on the verge of fulfilling its immense promise in the mid 1960s and early 1970s: unemployment was low, wages and profits were high, and the nation's wealth--by today's standards--was distributed in a remarkably equitable fashion. America was a society confident that it could bring a middle-class standard of living (at the very least) and the full rights of citizenship to virtually everyone. This sense of possibility has evaporated. In this book longtime New York Times columnist Bob Herbert combines devastating stories of suffering Americans with keen political analysis to show where decades of corporate greed, political apathy, and short-term thinking have led: America's infrastructure is crumbling, our schools fail our children, unnecessary wars maim our young men, and underemployment plagues a generation. He traces how the United States went wrong, exposing the slow, dangerous shift of political influence from the working population in the 1960s to the corporate and financial elite today, who act largely in their own self-interest. But the situation isn't entirely hopeless. Herbert argues that by tapping the creative ideas of people across the country who are implementing solutions at the local level, the middle class can reassert its power, put the economy back on track, and usher in a new progressive era"--
Language:
English
Contents:
Falling apart -- Falling apart II -- Jobs and the middle class -- War and its aftermath -- Understating the costs of war -- Poverty and inequality -- The public schools -- Poverty and public education -- War's madness runs deep -- Hurricane Sandy and other disasters -- Cashing in on schools -- Mistreating the troops -- Epilogue: looking ahead.
ISBN:
9780385528238
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

From longtime New York Times columnist Bob Herbert comes a wrenching portrayal of ordinary Americans struggling for survival in a nation that has lost its way

In his eighteen years as an opinion columnist for The New York Times , Herbert championed the working poor and the middle class. After filing his last column in 2011, he set off on a journey across the country to report on Americans who were being left behind in an economy that has never fully recovered from the Great Recession. The portraits of those he encountered fuel his new book, Losing Our Way . Herbert's combination of heartrending reporting and keen political analysis is the purest expression since the Occupy movement of the plight of the 99 percent.
     The individuals and families who are paying the price of America's bad choices in recent decades form the book's emotional center: an exhausted high school student in Brooklyn who works the overnight shift in a factory at minimum wage to help pay her family's rent; a twenty-four-year-old soldier from Peachtree City, Georgia, who loses both legs in a misguided, mismanaged, seemingly endless war; a young woman, only recently engaged, who suffers devastating injuries in a tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis; and a group of parents in Pittsburgh who courageously fight back against the politicians who decimated funding for their children's schools.
     Herbert reminds us of a time in America when unemployment was low, wages and profits were high, and the nation's wealth, by current standards, was distributed much more equitably. Today, the gap between the wealthy and everyone else has widened dramatically, the nation's physical plant is crumbling, and the inability to find decent work is a plague on a generation. Herbert traces where we went wrong and spotlights the drastic and dangerous shift of political power from ordinary Americans to the corporate and financial elite. Hope for America, he argues, lies in a concerted push to redress that political imbalance. Searing and unforgettable, Losing Our Way ultimately inspires with its faith in ordinary citizens to take back their true political power and reclaim the American dream.


Author Notes

BOB HERBERT, an opinion columnist for  The   New York Times  from 1993 to 2011, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos, a public policy think tank in New York City.


Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Former New York Times columnist Herbert (America's Urban Crisis and the Advent of Color-blind Politics) describes how the "great promise of America" has been tarnished by foreign policy decisions, chronic unemployment, income inequality, and political gridlock. As in his columns, Herbert ardently defends those being left behind in this current "winner-take-all" economy. As he travels across the U.S. interviewing the jobless and wounded, as well as noted educators, economists, activists and political leaders, he focuses on the four issues most pressing to him-infrastructure, employment, public education, and ending our "profoundly debilitating," military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. What emerges from his chronicle is a devastating portrait of a country where one in six people is officially poor; the top three private sector employers (Wal-Mart, Yum! Brands and McDonald's) provide non-unionized, low-wage, part-time jobs with few benefits; 12% of the nation's bridges are "structurally deficient"; and suicide among veterans is at record levels. Herbert convincingly argues that while public schools are doing better than detractors indicate (American test scores are dragged down by the U.S.'s greater social inequality), reforms like high-stakes testing, vouchers, and charter and online schools have not helped. Herbert ends by urging bold new leadership against an "intolerable status quo" and pointing to encouraging examples of citizen groups rising up across the country. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Author's Note The moment came unexpectedly, which is how denial is often pierced. Guntars Lakis, an architect in Bridgeport, Connecticut, had been watching his small kids at soccer practice. They came running toward him when practice was over, sweating, giggling, and clamoring for Italian ices. That was when he realized how far he had fallen. In a lush, beautifully landscaped suburban park, on a late afternoon in summer, he felt ashamed. "They wanted an Italian ice after practice," he told me, "and I didn't have four dollars in my wallet to buy it for them. I didn't have any money at all." The twenty-first century has not been kind to the middle class in America. The economic nightmare that descended on the Lakis family was part of an epic change in the lives of individuals and families across the country. Millions of hardworking men and women who had believed they were solidly anchored economically found themselves cast into a financial abyss, struggling with joblessness, home foreclosures, and personal bankruptcy. Some were astonished to find themselves turning to food banks and homeless shelters. The hard times would eventually spread like a blight across the country, wiping out savings, crushing home values, and upending carefully nurtured career plans. For much of the population, the very notion of economic security evaporated. Spirits sank along with bank balances. The Great Recession and its dismal aftermath showed unmistakably that a great change had come over the country. The years that had been unkind to the middle class were positively brutal to the working class and the poor. The United States was no longer a place of widely shared prosperity and limitless optimism. It was a country that had lost its way. By 2012 the net worth of American families had fallen back to the levels of the early 1990s. Poverty was expanding, and the middle class had entered a protracted period of decline. Signs of distress were everywhere. There were not nearly enough jobs for all who wanted and needed to work. Middle-aged professionals were being forced into early, unwanted retirement. Low-wage, contingent work--without benefits and with no retirement security--was increasingly becoming the norm. Even young graduates with impressive credentials from world-class colleges and universities were finding it difficult to put together a decent standard of living. For millions of Americans, there was no work at all. As I traveled the country doing research for this book, I couldn't help but notice that something fundamental in the very character of the United States had shifted. There was a sense of powerlessness and resignation among ordinary people that I hadn't been used to seeing. The country seemed demoralized. I remembered the United States as a far more confident and boisterous place in the days when I was growing up in suburban New Jersey in the 1950s and '60s. Kids, grown-ups, everybody had their dreams and were unabashedly flexing their muscles, ready to make them come true. The bigger the dream, the better. Each day was the dawn of new possibilities. All you needed was energy and a willingness to work hard. That bold confidence in the future now seemed as old-fashioned as typewriters and telephone booths. There was still plenty to admire about the United States, and crowds could be heard from time to time chanting "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" at rallies and ball games. But what I was seeing in my travels was a deeply wounded society, with a majority of respondents in poll after poll saying the U.S. was in a state of decline. The symptoms were numerous, varied, and scary. The economy seemed to work only for the very wealthy. By 2013 the richest 1 percent in America was hauling in nearly a quarter of the nation's entire annual income and owned 40 percent of its wealth. The bottom 80 percent of Americans, 250 million people, were struggling to hold on to just 7 percent of the nation's wealth. No wonder people were demoralized. The high rollers continued to thrive despite the recession and its widespread suffering. The head of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, was compensated to the tune of $13.2 million in 2010 as salaries and bonuses on Wall Street roared back from the economic debacle set in motion by the recklessness of those very same Wall Street bankers and their acolytes in government. By 2013 the stock markets were setting record highs, and banks that were once thought too big to fail were growing bigger still. The incomes of the über-rich came to mind one winter morning as I was reading a desperate letter written by a woman in her mid-fifties to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The woman and her husband were unemployed and about to lose their home to foreclosure. "I pray to God," she wrote, "that we do not have to resort to living in the car which is unimaginable in the middle of January in zero degree temperatures with no gas money to run the engine to keep warm." For ordinary Americans, the story of the past several years has too often been about job cuts, falling wages, vanishing pensions, and diminished expectations. Birthrates plummeted in the wake of the recession as couples put off having children for financial reaso