What the financial diaries of working-class families reveal about economic stresses, why they happen, and what policies might reduce them
Deep within the American Dream lies the belief that hard work and steady saving will ensure a comfortable retirement and a better life for one's children. But in a nation experiencing unprecedented prosperity, even for many families who seem to be doing everything right, this ideal is still out of reach.
In The Financial Diaries, Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider draw on the groundbreaking U.S. Financial Diaries, which follow the lives of 235 low- and middle-income families as they navigate through a year. Through the Diaries, Morduch and Schneider challenge popular assumptions about how Americans earn, spend, borrow, and save—and they identify the true causes of distress and inequality for many working Americans.
We meet real people, ranging from a casino dealer to a street vendor to a tax preparer, who open up their lives and illustrate a world of financial uncertainty in which even limited financial success requires imaginative—and often costly—coping strategies. Morduch and Schneider detail what families are doing to help themselves and describe new policies and technologies that will improve stability for those who need it most.
Combining hard facts with personal stories, The Financial Diaries presents an unparalleled inside look at the economic stresses of today's families and offers powerful, fresh ideas for solving them.
This sharp-eyed, sympathetic study from Morduch, a public policy and economics professor, and Schneider, a financial services company vice president, has a compelling new angle on the effects of long-term financial instability on working-class families. The authors' focus is on cash flow and how it can reveal instability that's not otherwise obvious from simple income information. They designed the titular financial diaries by recording a total financial picture for each of 235 households in five states: dollars earned, spent, and received in government entitlements. The study shows how cash-flow uncertainty prevents people from sticking with long- or even short-term financial plans. Using the narratives of a handful of survey respondents including a casino card dealer and a performing arts teacher the authors discuss various coping methods: saving, borrowing, and drawing on communities and networks. They also examine how pervasive financial uncertainty drains people's time and energy, citing a 2014 survey in which 92% of respondents said they would prefer economic stability to extra income. This is a must-read for anyone interested in causes of and potential solutions to American poverty.