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Declining Fortunes: The Withering of the American Dream

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American society has reneged on its promise to the baby-boom generation. Young people for the first time find themselves unable to duplicate, let alone surpass, their own parents' standard of living. Although the media are filled with images of high-living yuppies, the realities for this generation of adults are far bleaker: home ownership rates are falling precipitously, pink slips cascade from corporate headquarters, and costs of raising a family rise threateningly. How are Americans coming to grips with ...
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Overview

American society has reneged on its promise to the baby-boom generation. Young people for the first time find themselves unable to duplicate, let alone surpass, their own parents' standard of living. Although the media are filled with images of high-living yuppies, the realities for this generation of adults are far bleaker: home ownership rates are falling precipitously, pink slips cascade from corporate headquarters, and costs of raising a family rise threateningly. How are Americans coming to grips with declining fortunes? Based on years of probing research and candid interviews with postwar suburban parents and their baby-boom children, this book provides an unblinking look at the damage that economic decline has done to the people of America - damage reflected in taxpayer revolts, anger at the urban underclass, and fury at the nation's political elites. With insight and sensitivity, Katherine S. Newman explores all the disturbing implications of a trend that shows every indication of being a long-range phenomenon. She discusses the pressures on young mothers to stay at home - pressures that they can scarcely afford to indulge - and the frustration (often mixed with disdain) of elderly parents unable to see why their children can't "make it" as they did, "pulling themselves up by the bootstraps." She examines the growing xenophobia toward affluent Asian newcomers. And she points out the rift between counterculture baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s and those who grew up in the "me decade" of the 1970s, revealing that the baby-boom generation is a generation divided against itself. Here is a book that sheds new light on the driving issue of our day: downward mobility and the politics of resentment.

American society has reneged on its promise to the baby boom generation. As young people find themselves unable to even duplicate their parents' standard of living, Newman finds out how Americans are coping. An illuminating book based on years of interviews, written by the author of Falling from Grace.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times
The middle class matters hugely in this country and Ms. Newman is well on her way to becoming its preeminent chronicler.
New York Times Book Review
The middle class matters hugely in this country and Ms. Newman is well on her way to becoming its preeminent chronicler.
San Francisco Chronicle
Declining Fortunes does a real service by taking the macroeconomic concept of middle-class decline and showing how we experience this reality as a set of personal, political and moral dilemmas.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
To find out how economic decline and downward mobility have shaped the personal problems, marital conflicts and expectations of postwar baby-boomers, Columbia University anthropologist Newman interviewed some 150 residents of a typical New Jersey suburb. An important, perspicacious look at America's shrinking middle class, her study determines that occupational insecurity, high housing prices and the cost-of-living squeeze affect this generation's most personal decisions--such as whether or when to have children--besides increasing friction between spouses and antagonism toward racial minorities, particularly affluent Asian newcomers. Newman ( Falling from Grace: The Downward Mobility of the Middle Class ) perceives a dichotomy between liberal older boomers who came of age in the 1960s and the more conservative younger boomers beset by frustration, envy and a sense of helplessness. The baby-boom generation, she predicts, could become the most powerful political-interest group in the Clinton era. Major ad/promo; author tour. (May)
Library Journal
Newman, a Columbia University anthropology professor and author of Falling from Grace: The Downward Mobility of the Middle Class (Free Pr., 1988), sought to get behind economic statistics by interviewing more than 150 ordinary Americans in a typical suburban community to find out how the numbers translate into real people. What she found included aging parents who bought homes in the 1950s and 1960s with the aid of the GI Bill and low interest rates. These same parents have seen their baby boom children go on to college and professional success, only to discover that they can't afford to buy the homes in which they grew up. In microcosm, Newman clearly shows that the American dream is withering on the vine of an economy that is not providing ``the kind of job opportunities or personal security that the country took for granted only a generation ago.'' Recommended for academic and public libraries.-- Jeffrey R. Herold, Bucyrus P.L., Ohio
Booknews
A thoughtful portrait of the baby boom generation and its subgroups, exploring the differences in expectations and economic reward experienced by the boomers and their parents. Anthropologist Newman (Columbia U.) draws on extensive interviewing, incorporating extended quotes and cases in her presentation; but the notes show that she has also synthesized her discussion from a wide range of other resources. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Gilbert Taylor
Not that non-Boomers care, but the Baby Boom generation (born 1946-64) exhibits a split personality that affects Boomers' conversations with their parents and expectations for their financial future. To tease out the nuances, Newman planned a field study, selected a site, visited the natives, and rolled her tape recorder. What she found out in "Pleasonton," the alias for an actual north New Jersey suburb (Morristown, perhaps?), should resonate uneasily for anyone who grew up in, or presently aspires to, the middle-class living standard of house, family, job security, and increasing income. From interviews with two Pleasonton cohorts, high school classes of 1970 and 1980, respectively, Newman weaves threads that militate against the Boomers' equaling, much less improving on, the spectacular economic climb of their Depression and World War II-era parents. Their childhood houses have skyrocketed in value; motherhood, a "generational battleground" Newman calls it, has become problematic as women have moved into the workplace as much from necessity as from the feminist ethic; and in yet another social fracture, more conservative, tail-end Boomers increasingly resent seeing their career ways blocked by the sheer bulk of their more liberal, Vietnam-era siblings. Neither a happy story nor a call to action, this is a deceptively simple status report that millions instinctively know intersects their own life histories. A crystalline, well-written study.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465015931
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 4/28/1993
  • Pages: 272

Table of Contents

Preface
1 The End of Entitlement 1
2 Winners and Losers in the Eighties and Nineties 28
3 The Making of the Boomers 56
4 The Problem of the Moral Mother 93
5 The Spoiled Generation 130
6 Illegitimate Elites and the Parasitic Underclass 149
7 The Fractured Generation 171
8 The Politics of Generational Division 200
Notes 223
Index 251
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