Two years before the pandemic, polls reported that between 65% and 80% of the U.S. population was living paycheck to paycheck. For the majority of Americans, hard times have long been a way of life. Some work multiple low-wage jobs, others face the squeeze of stagnant wages and rising costs of living. What does daily life look in economically stressed communities? I talked with people across Appalachia, at Standing Rock and Wind River Reservations and in the bustling city of Oakland, California. Their voices offer a wide range of experiences that complicate dominant national narratives about economic struggles.
Yet Living on the Edge is about more than individual experiences. It’s about a nation in a deep economic and moral crisis. It’s about the long-standing collusion between government and corporations that prioritizes profits over people, over the environment, and over the nation’s well-being. It’s about how racism, sexism, violence and the pandemic shape daily experience in struggling communities. And ultimately, it is a book about hope that lays out a vision for the future as honest as it is ambitious. Most people in the book are not progressives; none are radicals. They’re hard-working people who know from experience that the current system is unsustainable. Across the country people described the need for a living wage, accessible health care, immigration reform, and free education. Their voices make a timely and important contribution to national conversations on inequality.