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Why are so many Americans mired in debt going bankrupt and worried about the economy To many observers the answer is simple middle-class families have embarked on a reckless spending spree confident that they will be bailed out by the government when the day of reckoning arrives Warren and Tyagi throw cold water on this condescending chorus As they convincingly demonstrate middle-class complaints have a solid basis even as womens contributions to family income have risen the basics of middle-class life have become much more expensive Others have noted that womens entrance into the work force was necessary for midle-class families to advance in the 1980s and 1990s But Warren and Tyagi take this observation a giant leap further Families havent advanced They have been running to stay still Warren and Tyagi have set a high hurdle for the over-consumption argument and for this they deserve great credit Yet because they focus so heavily on the consumption side of the picture Warren and Tyagi say less about what is arguably the core economic experience of todays working families increased insecurity One reason for this oversight ironically is that Warren and Tyagi appear to buy into the central tenet of the over-consumption school--namely its view of middle-class spending as consumption a simple cash outflow that straitjackets family finances Today they write the basic expenses consume 75 percent of the familys combined income Their nut--the amount that they must pay in good times and in bad--is fixed at 75 percent of their income Yet many of the big-ticket items that Warren and Tyagi discuss--housing education even child care--are best thought of not merely as consumption but also as investments And because they are partly investments they can scarcely be viewed as money down the drain To the contrary families make such investments in hopes of big payoffs The rub is that the up-front costs are certain and the future payoffs are not Todays
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