Neal Gabler has written and published books and hundreds of articles, won awards and fellowships, appeared on a movie-review TV show for three years, and even sold the rights to one of his books to Martin Scorsese. Yet he is among the 47% of Americans who, according to a 2013 Federal Reserve Board survey, would have trouble coming up with the funds to cover an emergency costing $400. In an extensive piece for the Atlantic, he looks at other, similarly depressing numbers about the financial state of many Americans, and traces some of the reasons for this—people who increasingly spent money using credit cards and then were walloped by the Great Recession, wages that have been basically stagnant since 1972, and more. And he looks at his own story, which involves the complications of the way he earns money (some years are very good; others very bad), living beyond his means "because [his] means kept dwindling," and making several poor financial choices.
Gabler's not looking for sympathy, he writes: "And let me be clear that I am not crying over my plight. I have it a lot better than many, probably most, Americans—which is my point. Maybe we all screwed up. Maybe the 47% of American adults who would have trouble with a $400 emergency should have done things differently and more rationally. Maybe we all lived more grandly than we should have. But I doubt that brushstroke should be applied so broadly. Many middle-class wage earners are victims of the economy, and, perhaps, of that great, glowing, irresistible American promise that has been drummed into our heads since birth: Just work hard and you can have it all." Wages remain flat, personal savings remain low, and it remains difficult to maintain a middle-class life: "Hope doesn’t come easily anymore, even in a nation of dreamers and strivers and idealists. What so many of us have been suffering for so many years may just seem like a rough patch. But it is far more likely to be our lives." Click for his full piece. (Read more US economy stories.)