One of our most incisive and committed journalists—author of the classic All the Livelong Day—shows us the real human cost of our economic follies.
The Great Recession has thrown huge economic challenges at almost all Americans save the super-affluent few, and we are only now beginning to reckon up the human toll it is taking. Down the Up Escalator is an urgent dispatch from the front lines of our vast collective struggle to keep our heads above water and maybe even—someday—get ahead. Garson has interviewed an economically and geographically wide variety of Americans to show the painful waste in all this loss and insecurity, and describe how individuals are coping. Her broader historical focus, though, is on the causes and consequences of the long stagnation of wages and how it has resulted in an increasingly desperate reliance on credit and a series of ever-larger bubbles—stocks, technology, real estate. This is no way to run an economy, or a democracy.
From the members of the Pink Slip Club in New York, to a California home health-care aide on the eve of eviction, to a subprime mortgage broker who still thinks it could have worked, Down the Up Escalator presents a sobering picture of what happens to a society when it becomes economically organized to benefit only the very rich and the quick-buck speculators. But it also demonstrates the wit and resilience of ordinary Americans—and why they deserve so much better than the hand they’ve been dealt.
About the Author
Barbara Garson is an award-winning playwright, journalist, and the author of four books. Her play "MacBird" was the literary opening shot of the sixties, and "The Dinosaur Door" won an Obie. Her writing has appeared in "Harper s", the "New York Times", "Newsweek", and the" Nation".
Praise for Down the Up Escalator:
“In the official estimation of government economists, the Great Recession ended in 2009. But in Barbara Garson's new book, it lives on. And for the people whose stories she tells, the Great Recession may never die…. Down the Up Escalator is best read as a kind of travelogue through a beaten-down but-not-broken United States…. [It is] an engaging, insightful account of the changes that have swept through an America where good, hard-working people are learning to make do with less money, less opportunity and less free time…. A willingness to portray the complexity of Americans' personal responses to macroeconomic disaster helps make Garson's book a lively read, despite its grim subject matter. So many books that treat the subject of economic restructuring portray working Americans as hapless victims. Garson is too sharp an observer, and too honest a writer, to do that…her lucid book makes it clear that with each new crisis the American people will survive by digging deeper into their supplies of creativity, courage and humor.”
—Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times
“Barbara Garson has written a small masterpiece of wise and alarming reportage about how ordinary Americans are surviving during extraordinarily rotten times. Down the Up Escalator is a necessary antidote to all the blather about ‘freeing’ banks and investment houses from ‘crippling regulations’.”
—Michael Kazin, author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation
“Do you want to know both how and why we got into the economic mess we are in—and what it really means in the everyday life of real people? What is driving the pain deep in the bowels of the system—and how people are trying to counter it in the real world? Read this book; no one does it better and makes it readable and human to boot, than Barbara Garson.”
—Gar Alperovitz, author of America Beyond Capitalism
“Most recessions come and go and leave little in their wake. People return to jobs, banks resume lending. But the Great Recession struck directly at the American dream of long-term employment and home ownership. Barbara Garson’s book is not about the collapse of firms that bet on complex derivatives, but about the human costs of the Great Recession. She recounts eloquently the bad dream from which we have still not awakened. Years from now, when historians want to know what it was really like to live during this recession, they'll find no better place to look than Garson’s book.”
—John B. Judis, Senior Editor, The New Republic and Visiting Scholar, The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
“Barbara Garson knows that the hard times so many people are living through are not just composed of headlines about corporate profits, unemployment rates and foreclosures; they are composed of human beings. This book is a compassionate, probing, pointillist mural of the Great Recession and of the decades-long erosion of the average American’s economic position that preceded it, all told through the experiences of individual men and women. She has followed some over time, has sought out others whose lives illuminate larger injustices, and has found people whose stories will stick with you.”
—Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost
“Barbara Garson writes an honest and moving dispatch from the front lines of America’s new class war. These are the mounting casualties, betrayed by the American Dream and now struggling—largely alone—for survival and simple human dignity. Garson’s real-life stories give clues as to why the battered middle class has not yet erupted politically—and why it still might.”
—Jeff Faux, author of The Servant Economy and Distinguished Fellow, Economic Policy Institute
“In this evocative book, Barbara Garson hears out a host of victims, gamblers, and scramblers ensnared in the network of rackets that drives the American economy, and shows how high-level policies produce collateral damage and blast dreams. This is reporting for hearts and minds alike.”
—Todd Gitlin, author of Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street
"Americans cope with the fallout from 40 years of dwindling prospects in this quietly harrowing mosaic of economic decline. Journalist Garson (All the Livelong Day) focuses on the basics—jobs, homes, money—and the people who have lost them since the 2008 financial crisis: a group of middle-aged New Yorkers who comfort each other as their layoffs turn into long-term unemployment; California homeowners, some facing immediate eviction, while others cynically game the foreclosure system; elderly pensioners who suddenly find their nest eggs crushed. Through their stories, she weaves lucid explanations of the mortgage bubble and financial speculations that wrecked the system, situating them within a larger analysis of the generations-long post-Vietnam economic transformation that replaced middle-class jobs with low-paid contingent labor, widened the gulf between the rich and the rest, and forced workers to take on ever more debt to keep their heads above water. Garson’s vivid, shrewd, warmly sympathetic profiles show the resilience with which ordinary Americans respond to misfortune, but also the enduring costs as they abandon hopes for a fulfilling career, an extra child, or a secure retirement. The result is a compelling portrait of an economy that has turned against the people."—Publishers Weekly (starred)
"Garson...combines her skills as a dramatist with her activist's conscience in this study of the economic issues confronting individuals and families in different parts of the country.... A skillful presentation that lifts the veil too often hiding areas that should be brought to light."—Kirkus Reviews