Jacob S. Hacker has just published an important article in The New Republic. He has been studying the rising economic insecurity that many Americans have been experiencing in recent years. It's true, he says, that many families are feeling the pinch brought on by various cost-of-living increases health care, college tuition, and so forth. But he wants to argue that rising insecurity is the greater problem.
This short excerpt should give you a good idea of Hacker's overall thesis:
Yet, the income squeeze that families face is not exactly the same as insecurity. Insecurity is something larger--the risk of large drops in living standards caused by loss of income or catastrophic expense. And, my research suggests, insecurity is something that more and more Americans, even the relatively well off, are confronting.
The signs are everywhere. Fourteen million more Americans lack health insurance now than two decades ago. Meanwhile, corporations have abandoned "defined-benefit pensions" that offer a fixed payment in retirement in favor of more risky "defined-contribution" plans like 401(k)s. And, according to Princeton economist Henry Farber, the effect of job loss on work hours, pay, and prospects for reemployment has worsened substantially since the 1980s. Indeed, in area after area, there's evidence of a vast shift in the economic security of most Americans--a massive transfer of financial risk from corporations and the government onto families and individuals.
Hacker is working on a book entitled The Great Risk Shift. His article makes me definitely want to read the book once it's available.
As a personal note, I'd like to add that I lived this sort of risk for a decade while I was an adjunct professor. I earned a decent income during those years, but I had no security whatsoever. Therefore, I had to save as much money as possible for unforseen expenses, open an IRA, buy my own health insurance, and so on.
I was never sure of being employed from one semester to the next, and I constantly had to look for work. I found it all very stressful. No doubt the feeling of insecurity and the accompanying stress are heightened for people who find themselves in similar employment circumstances, but who have families to take care of.