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Struggling Economy Hitting America’s Middle Class Hard

In the second installment in a series of conversations about the struggling economy, Ray Suarez speaks with author Nan Mooney about what she found to be troubling America's middle class. She interviewed more than 100 people for latest book, "(Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents: The Decline of the Professional Middle Class."

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Tonight, we focus on the plight of America's middle class. In her latest book, "Not Keeping Up with our Parents," journalist Nan Mooney argues that the middle class is having an increasingly difficult time making ends meet, a problem that has only gotten worse with the economic downturn.

    She joins us now.

    And, Nan Mooney, your book is loaded with that cherished American dream, that hope, that expectation that the children's generation will always live better than its parents. Has something fundamentally changed?

  • NAN MOONEY, author:

    I think something has fundamentally changed for a large sector of the population. We're now looking at people with good educations and good jobs whose wages have stagnated.

    Meanwhile, the costs of everything for them has gone up, so they're paying more for housing, they're paying more for that education, they're paying more for child care, for health care. And so, suddenly, they don't have the means to do as well as their parents did.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Both in the stories that you presented and in the hard numbers, there was a feeling that propelling your kids into a better life and taking good care of yourself, too, was becoming unsustainable. Has it?

  • NAN MOONEY:

    It's become very difficult. And one very interesting factor, too, was that I was talking to people not only who came from middle-class households, but who came from working-class households, who were saying, "You know what? I'm not even doing as well as my working-class parents were doing."

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Nan, did you speak to someone in researching the book whose predicament kind of sums up all that you were writing about?

  • NAN MOONEY:

    You know, it's — obviously, everyone's individual stories are very different, although they have these common themes, but there was one woman I spoke to who really stuck in my mind.

    And she was a mother of two children. And she and her husband were both employed. And she actually was paying more money for childcare than she earned from her job.

    But because there were no benefits offered through her husband's work and there were benefits offered through hers, she actually had to hang on to that job. She was essentially paying them to keep her on so she could hold on to those benefits.

    And I think those kinds of choices really epitomize the position a lot of middle-class families are finding themselves in, something we couldn't imagine a generation ago.