Strapped / By Tamara Draut
Doubleday, 277 pp, $32.95, hardcover.
If you think Strapped is some sort of exercise in masochism, you're partly right. After all, what 18-to-35-year-old needs to be told (in great statistical detail) how increasingly hard it is to get established as an independent adult these days? The dynamics are familiar: rent, tuition, and student debt loads are rising; wages fall, and higher (and dearer) degrees are required to get past the entry-level/no-exit job stream; credit-card survival debt is commonplace; and expenses lead many young adults to postpone (or pinch for) rites of passage that boomers took for granted, like getting your own apartment, a college or university degree, a car, a house, a spouse, a baby. The American dream of raising yourself into the middle class is slipping further out of reach.
With the subtitle Why America's 20-and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead, it's no surprise that author Tamara Draut doesn't once mention Canada, despite a few offhand references to several European countries with more progressive social policies, and some frequent discussion of the high cost of health care. Further limiting its appeal to Canadian readers is the hefty markup-144 percent of the U.S. price? Has anyone at Doubleday checked the exchange rate lately?
Policy wonks and activists, however, will appreciate its analysis of the situation stateside, and Draut does provide many illuminating facts and figures ($8,000 just to have a baby delivered normally in the States?), but your average young Canadians-unless clueless to the phenomenon-would find little specific to their own situation.
Even the anticipated solutions at book's end fail to meet the broad international perspective the situation demands, as laissez-faire capitalist policies of lowering social benefits, increasing financial and political inequality, and encouraging people to view themselves as solely responsible for their own misfortune are a booming American ideological export.
Ironically, Draut finds that young adults today are more family-oriented than the boomers were, yet their greater ambivalence toward government leads them to discount the main tool for changing the policy hurdles that make it harder than ever to start and support a family: political involvement.