Living on the Edge

When Hard Times Become a Way of Life


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.

2022 Non-Fiction Runner Up for the Weatherford Award of Berea College and the Appalachian Studies Association

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"Pascale shows how those in the struggling class manage to live in toxic environments, within the meanness of class prejudice and racism in all its forms, and violence—particularly gendered violence that disproportionately afflicts people without wealth. The book’s most important contribution to studies of poverty is to methodically show how the federal poverty line is a measure that fails to adequately illustrate how many people are struggling to make ends meet." Gabe Schwartzman
The struggling class has "a heightened sense of fairness and an awareness of how their wages, working conditions, and environmental resources are dominated by corporate interests. Although her interviewees are understandably skeptical of political affiliations, they articulate beliefs that are aligned more with the policies of Bernie Sanders than with Donald Trump's so-called populist uprising of the disenfranchised poor." Theodore Bain
"Living on the Edge is a timely and well-researched study of economic inequality and insecurity in the United States. More than a scholarly analysis, it is also an impassioned call to action. " Lindsay Ibañez
"This often poignant and moving book presents a vision of America and Americans that is often missing from dominant narratives produced by people living in relative comfort some distance away from the reality for millions of economically struggling Americans.... This book helps us get out of our denial. Allison L. Hurst
Pascale "takes Naomi Klein's work on disaster capitalism a step further, showing how the various mechanisms of the US economic system—federal, state, and local government, corporations as employers and retailers, even the healthcare system—collude to create the disasters to be capitalized on." Estelle Slootmaker
"Pascale explores the personal impact of poverty in low-income communities while simultaneously putting economic hardship into a robust political frame. This rare focus on the daily lives of the millions of U.S. residents who live paycheck to paycheck creates a vivid indictment of capitalism and the collusion between government and corporate interests." Eleanor Bader
“To read Pascale’s book, to tour the lives of those she calls “the struggling class” … is to come away convinced we live in a rigged game where corporations buy politicians who subsidize those corporations with public money.” Leonard Pitts
​​"Living on the Edge is a vivid exposé of the horrific poverty faced by the struggling classes in the US, but it's more than that. Pascale elaborates the patterns of domination – banks, corporations, and government –​ that lead people to adopt desperate but self-defeating strategies of survival. Nothing quite like it since Michael Harrington's The Other America." ​
Dr. Pascale writes with clarity, purpose, and a studied, personal understanding of the human condition. ‘The Struggling Class’ will be a term new to many, but it is, indeed, the way of life for too many others. The book should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand, in a way that is both supremely accessible and thoroughly researched, how economic, racial, class, caste, geographical, environmental, and other factors converge to create systemic inequalities designed to hold down a diverse stratum of people — from the Native residents on the Standing Rock Nation, where I grew up, to those doing their level best to make life work every day in places like Appalachia, Wind River, and Oakland. It skilfully illustrates key connective tissues that demonstrate how, despite outward differences, we share in the same struggle. In order to reinvent a democracy that works for everyone, we need radical, systemic change that begins to address the financialized, extractive colonial mentality and other, deeply embedded cultural wrongs. Only in this way, can we begin to envision a fairer, healthier future for the next generations
Is there support for a living wage, free education, and other egalitarian commitments within the low-income population? Yes! In a trenchant analysis, Celine-Marie Pascale shows that egalitarian sensibilities are alive and well among low-income workers, not because they necessarily subscribe to or care about conventional political parties or platforms but because their everyday lives expose a deeply unfair system. A brilliant account of ‘hard-knocks egalitarianism.’
This often poignant and moving book presents a vision of America and Americans that is often missing from dominant narratives. One walks away from this book with a better sense of the diversity of average, struggling Americans, as well as what all those people have in common – the struggle. As the author says, ‘this is more than a collection of individual troubles; it is the story of a nation in a deep economic and moral crisis’.
A rare book that combines a humane accounting of lives lived in hardship, attentive to race and gender, with a robust and data-driven critique of the policies that caused their dysfunction – a true bottom-up primer on American poverty with real-world applications for upturning the myths that surround inequality.
Living on the Edge highlights the ways that “business practices and government policies create, normalize and entrench economic struggles for many in order to produce extreme wealth for a few.”
A clarion call for much needed reform if our democracy is to survive the growing disenchantment of a large and growing proportion of the American citizenry, Living on the Edge: When Hard Times Become a Way of Life should be required reading by all governmental policy makers and is especially commended to the attention of political activists, economists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject of income inequality. Michael Carson
This is an impressive book, wide and deep, with diverse people around the country struggling to live. A yarn; no, yarns – economic and much more – always real, face-to-face with the author: what their lives are, sometimes doing themselves no favors, but more often the effects of laws and attitudes both far away and near, government and corporations, and the hate of people. Why it's hard to end poverty. Living on the Edge reaches in every direction. Personal, powerful: once you pick it up, you won't put it down.”
This thorough and penetrating book offers a convincing argument about why so many families are struggling to make ends meet and who they are as fully rounded people. The writing and narration are superb. I would call this a page turner, which is not my usual experience in reading books on this topic.
Some of the stories included in the book are shocking, terrifying, heart-breaking, and at the same time are the ordinary, everyday reality for people from [the] struggling class. Joanna Pawłowska