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America's leaders say the economy is strong and getting stronger. But ordinary Americans aren't buying it. They see what the rosy statistics hide: We are all struggling under the weight of terrifying economic instability. No matter how well educated and hard working we are, we know that the bottom can fall out at any moment. Meanwhile, the safety net that once protected us America's leaders say the economy is strong and getting stronger. But ordinary Americans aren't buying it. They see what the rosy statistics hide: We are all struggling under the weight of terrifying economic instability. No matter how well educated and hard working we are, we know that the bottom can fall out at any moment. Meanwhile, the safety net that once protected us is fast unraveling. With retirement plans in growing jeopardy while health coverage erodes, more and more economic risk is shifting from government and business onto the fragile shoulders of the American family. In The Great Risk Shift, Jacob S. Hacker lays bare this unsettling new economic climate, showing how it has come about, what it is doing to our families, and how we can fight back. Behind this shift, he contends, is the Personal Responsibility Crusade, eagerly embraced by corporate leaders and Republican politicians who speak of a nirvana of economic empowerment, an "ownership society" in which Americans are free to choose. But as Hacker reveals, the result has been quite different: a harsh new world of economic insecurity, in which far too many Americans are free to lose. The book documents how two great pillars of economic security--the family and the workplace--guarantee far less financial stability than they once did. The final leg of economic support--the public and private benefits that workers and families get when economic disaster strikes--has dangerously eroded as political leaders and corporations increasingly cut back protections of our health care, our income security, and our retirement pensions. Hacker concludes by advocating an "insurance and opportunity society" that would safeguard economic security and expand economic opportunity, ensuring that all Americans have the basic financial security they need to reach for and achieve the American Dream. Jacob Hacker brings into focus as never before the pressures that the Great Risk Shift exerts on our pocketbooks and on our lives. Blending powerful human stories, big-picture analysis, and compelling ideas for reform, this remarkable volume will hit a nerve, serving as a rallying point in the vital struggle for economic security in an increasingly uncertain world.


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America's leaders say the economy is strong and getting stronger. But ordinary Americans aren't buying it. They see what the rosy statistics hide: We are all struggling under the weight of terrifying economic instability. No matter how well educated and hard working we are, we know that the bottom can fall out at any moment. Meanwhile, the safety net that once protected us America's leaders say the economy is strong and getting stronger. But ordinary Americans aren't buying it. They see what the rosy statistics hide: We are all struggling under the weight of terrifying economic instability. No matter how well educated and hard working we are, we know that the bottom can fall out at any moment. Meanwhile, the safety net that once protected us is fast unraveling. With retirement plans in growing jeopardy while health coverage erodes, more and more economic risk is shifting from government and business onto the fragile shoulders of the American family. In The Great Risk Shift, Jacob S. Hacker lays bare this unsettling new economic climate, showing how it has come about, what it is doing to our families, and how we can fight back. Behind this shift, he contends, is the Personal Responsibility Crusade, eagerly embraced by corporate leaders and Republican politicians who speak of a nirvana of economic empowerment, an "ownership society" in which Americans are free to choose. But as Hacker reveals, the result has been quite different: a harsh new world of economic insecurity, in which far too many Americans are free to lose. The book documents how two great pillars of economic security--the family and the workplace--guarantee far less financial stability than they once did. The final leg of economic support--the public and private benefits that workers and families get when economic disaster strikes--has dangerously eroded as political leaders and corporations increasingly cut back protections of our health care, our income security, and our retirement pensions. Hacker concludes by advocating an "insurance and opportunity society" that would safeguard economic security and expand economic opportunity, ensuring that all Americans have the basic financial security they need to reach for and achieve the American Dream. Jacob Hacker brings into focus as never before the pressures that the Great Risk Shift exerts on our pocketbooks and on our lives. Blending powerful human stories, big-picture analysis, and compelling ideas for reform, this remarkable volume will hit a nerve, serving as a rallying point in the vital struggle for economic security in an increasingly uncertain world.

30 review for The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care and Retirement and How You Can Fight Back

  1. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    The Great Risk Shift by Jacob Hacker is a useful and prescient work that sheds light on the panorama of inequality, insecurity, and hardship that confronts millions of workers and their families in the United States. It displays all of the virtues of the liberal approach to policy analysis that the book epitomizes - as well as its limitations. My studies have made me intimately familiar with the explosion of socioeconomic inequality that has occurred in the U.S. over the last thirty years. Before The Great Risk Shift by Jacob Hacker is a useful and prescient work that sheds light on the panorama of inequality, insecurity, and hardship that confronts millions of workers and their families in the United States. It displays all of the virtues of the liberal approach to policy analysis that the book epitomizes - as well as its limitations. My studies have made me intimately familiar with the explosion of socioeconomic inequality that has occurred in the U.S. over the last thirty years. Before reading The Great Risk Shift, however, I was not nearly as aware of the depth or the extent of income instability confronting countless workers, even those with relatively high levels of education and skills. Hacker’s discussion of this disturbing phenomenon will allow me to approach questions of socioeconomic inequality with a more fine-grained lens that takes into account the complexities hidden beneath some of the most prominent social indicators such as the unemployment rate and the labor market participation rate. Hacker should also be applauded for his subtle analysis of the relationship between state and market under neoliberalism. Scholars across the political spectrum tend to equate the neoliberal turn that began in the 1970s with the wholesale withdrawal of the state from economic intervention and the reorganization of the political economy around the free market. But as Hacker convincingly demonstrates, one cannot draw a sharp distinction between state and market because the former creates the legal and political framework within the latter operates. The displacement of traditional pensions by 401(k)s, welfare reform, the establishment of privatized Health Savings Accounts, and all of the other policy innovations pursued by neoliberal politicians from both political parties could only have been accomplished through the deployment of state power on a massive scale. The devotees of what Hacker calls the Personal Responsibility Crusade may speak the language of libertarian anti-statism, but have not hesitated to use government to undermine the social insurance systems bequeathed by the New Deal in order to further their agenda. While Hacker offers a wealth of detail regarding the vast social and economic dislocations wrought by the great risk shift, like may other analysts who occupy a similar ideological position he fails to offer an effective account of why it ever took place. The neoliberal turn did not occur simply because conservative policy intellectuals and strategists were able to win political leaders to their ideological perspective, as Hacker’s account tends to imply. The ideas and policy innovations proposed by people like Martin Feldstein, Stuart Butler, and Milton Friedman gained a hearing because Keynesian policy was simply not able to adequately manage the political and economic developments it summoned into existence. Hacker does briefly comment on the contribution of increased domestic and international competition toward the decline of the postwar order, and that is an important part of the story. But above all, the neoliberal project sought to reestablish the political, economic, and ideological power of a capitalist class whose dominance was threatened by the growing power of the organized working class and mass social unrest. In the kind of full (or near-full) employment economy that existed in the late 1960s, labor’s workplace and marketplace power vis-a-vis capital vastly increased. Workers used their favorable position to push for ever higher wages and benefits, which cut into corporate profits and contributed to spiraling inflation. In some cases, workers even pushed for a measure of control over the production process itself. Labor discipline broke down throughout the economy, as the late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed the emergence of a major strike wave throughout North America and Western Europe. Many rank-and-file workers rebelled not only against their bosses, but their unions and the peace settlement they concluded with capital during and after World War II. Keynesianism ceased to deliver the goods, and the neoliberals entered the breach to offer intellectual and political support to a newly organized and militant capitalist class, which proceeded to bust unions, reorganize production in ways that undermined worker power, and assert its dominance over the political system through massive lobbying and campaign contributions. The great risk shift is the bitter fruit of this project. In building his analytic framework around the category of risk instead of the dynamics of class power, Hacker conflates symptoms with causes and fails to offer a compelling explanation of why the widespread social insecurity he details ever came into existence in the first place. The consequences of this failure are readily apparent in the book’s concluding chapter. He calls on his readers to “get mad” at the powerful interests that have damaged the lives of so many, but spends more time offering personal financial advice than detailing a strategy that could rebuild the power of working people and reverse the great risk shift. Many of the policy proposals Hacker details are certainly worthy of support. But without a sense of political agency or strategy, we’re left to plead ineffectually before a regime that appears to be thoroughly captured by corporate power. This is why Hacker finds the lack of interest by political and corporate leaders in redressing the great risk shift to be so “puzzling,” when the reasons behind their apparent lassitude should be clear as day.

  2. 5 out of 5

    David

    Everyone is trying to figure out, in light of the ongoing economic crisis, just what it is that happened to the American economy over the last 30 to 40 years. We can give approximate dates as baselines for many of the trends that lead to the present crisis: in terms of economics, the late 70s and the early 1980s saw a profound mutation in the configuration of the global economy as the United States ceased to be the lone and outsized industrial economy of the postwar world; during the same period Everyone is trying to figure out, in light of the ongoing economic crisis, just what it is that happened to the American economy over the last 30 to 40 years. We can give approximate dates as baselines for many of the trends that lead to the present crisis: in terms of economics, the late 70s and the early 1980s saw a profound mutation in the configuration of the global economy as the United States ceased to be the lone and outsized industrial economy of the postwar world; during the same period, the rise of Neoliberal economic thought and a renaiscent conservative movement provided an intellectual framework for understanding and facilitating that very transformation. We are now at a point in time from which we can assess a number of these long-term trends with greater clarity than ever before. The slogan of the Occupy Wall Street movement -- "We are the 99%" -- is one early assessment of the period that seems to be coming to a close, emphasizing in a compelling way the dramatic income inequality that has been one conspicuous outcome. There are other measures, too, many of which are well known. American household incomes have remained, on average, flat (despite the shift from single- to dual-earners as women entered the workforce). Rates of social mobility have declined. Levels of household debt have risen, as have corporate savings. Manufacturing has declined in terms of numbers employed and overall revenues, while finance has swollen to be the largest single sector of the American economy, though it has fallen from its pre-crisis height. Less well-known is a trend that Jacob Hacker suggests underlies and goes far towards tying together many of the others: the "great risk shift." The idea of risk is an actuarial concept, and it is one of the technical and philosophical foundations of programs of "social insurance", or the modern welfare state. The key idea behind social insurance, or insurance of any kind, is that risk is made manageable by spreading it as widely as possible among pools of exposed individuals. The larger the pool, the lower the risk. Where economic risk -- such as sudden loss of income, unexpected or chronic illness, indebtedness, or a shifting market for specialized skills -- was previously born chiefly by governments and private sector employers, the last 30 years have seen a shift of the risk burden from these bodies to individuals. Hacker's central point is that this shift in risk has resulted in a raft of underreported trends that belie an overall increase in *insecurity*. Bankruptcies are much more common now than they were in 1960; a greater percentage of homes are foreclosed on (the book, published in 2006, does not refer to the subprime crisis), more people are in debt, and what Hacker calls income volatility is higher than before. This last measure is the book's most compelling. A person's chances of falling into poverty are greater now than they have been in over a generation. The opportunity to strike it rich does exist, but the risks that accompany failing to do so are also greater than before. Unemployment insurance, designed in the 1930's, is no longer adequate to the new world of changing technology, part-time work, and long-term unemployment. Medicare undermines itself by covering only the old and infirm (the most expensive insureds), leaving the private sector to cover the young or those who can afford the premiums. There is very little safety net for couples who have to withdraw from the workforce to start families; and the list goes on. Falling through any of the cracks in this patchwork system of social insurance is more and more likely for more and more people. In short, the burdens of protecting individuals against blind swipes of fate - the obsolescence of a job skill, sickness of a family member - have been unloaded from larger entities more able to absorb the shocks and onto individuals, assigning to them the role of risk managers for their own financial security. This is a rejection of the very idea of insurance - or rather, in parallel with the evolution of the broader economy, its 'financiarization' - the idea of insurance being to distribute risk among a very large group of people so that the costs of ill fortune to any individual are not so great that that person is overwhelmed. Hacker suggests that the anxiety generated by this assumption of greater risk is behind widespread pessimism about the American economy. It is the experiential, psychological side of the well-known graphs plotting the inequality of income or wealth. It is most likely also the source of the profound sympathy of so many with the Occupy Wall Street protest movement.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl Richardson

    thin on real data, heavy on cherry picked anecdotal data To be fair, I can only judge the first quarter of the book. I couldn't convince myself to read beyond that. The basic premise of the book is that the era of pensions and fully covered healthcare is over and individuals have picked up that responsibility. That's old news. He then proceeds to explain why we should all be terrified. He portrays those of us not in the top income bracket as victims. Sorry, that's not a book for me. I want informa thin on real data, heavy on cherry picked anecdotal data To be fair, I can only judge the first quarter of the book. I couldn't convince myself to read beyond that. The basic premise of the book is that the era of pensions and fully covered healthcare is over and individuals have picked up that responsibility. That's old news. He then proceeds to explain why we should all be terrified. He portrays those of us not in the top income bracket as victims. Sorry, that's not a book for me. I want information that I can use to be successful, not to whine about being a victim. He uses little actually published data and when he can't find any to support his point, he either picks some anecdotal story or manufacturers his own facts. As an example, he describes how computer programmers have an unemployment rate double the national average and had an average salary of 23.01 per hour. I've been in the industry for decades and the unemployment rate has always been well below average except for a year or so after the dot com crash and the salary range didn't drop nearly that low. I expected the book to have a political bias but the author goes way beyond my expectations. Fortunately I got it through kindle unlimited and can simply drop it and get a new book that will be more useful.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Peacejanz

    This is a wonderful academic book by a sociologist, using his data, research and research findings from others to explain how American attitudes have shifted in the last 50 years or so and how dangerous the world is for most of us. Jobs are now risky; a century ago, a person had a job for life in many cases. Now with layoffs, technology, down-sizing, no job is secure. Retirement and health care costs are also more risky than our parents experienced. Few organizations now provide retirement monie This is a wonderful academic book by a sociologist, using his data, research and research findings from others to explain how American attitudes have shifted in the last 50 years or so and how dangerous the world is for most of us. Jobs are now risky; a century ago, a person had a job for life in many cases. Now with layoffs, technology, down-sizing, no job is secure. Retirement and health care costs are also more risky than our parents experienced. Few organizations now provide retirement monies to match the workers' portion of retirement monies. The same is true of health care - more and more, organizations are not providing health care insurance, leaving individuals to pay for it alone. Many people can manage to pay for their health care and retirement, until a crisis occurs. Where there is a very sick child, when cancer or some awful disease occurs, when an adult child has to return home because of any issue, the family funds simply do not extend far enough. People go into debt, have their homes foreclosed, and live hand to mouth because the average American does not have savings to cover long periods of disaster. Most of what Hacker writes is true and the average reader can deal with it. This book becomes special because it points all the areas of risk that the average American is facing today. Risks that were once carried by organizations or the government are now shifted to individuals. Put it all together and bam! A slap to the face. This is a superb book. Well worth reading.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Important book that chronicles how the U.S. has systematically shifted the risk away from government and private corporations and onto individual citizens. The reason why individuals feel so insecure despite modest gains in wealth over the past decades is that they have no safety net for when there are sudden dips in their income or major unplanned expenses, especially related to healthcare. Reading this book during COVID-19 certainly added a layer of timeliness to a book on a topic that was alr Important book that chronicles how the U.S. has systematically shifted the risk away from government and private corporations and onto individual citizens. The reason why individuals feel so insecure despite modest gains in wealth over the past decades is that they have no safety net for when there are sudden dips in their income or major unplanned expenses, especially related to healthcare. Reading this book during COVID-19 certainly added a layer of timeliness to a book on a topic that was already urgent for the public to address. Now we are certainly experiencing one of those black swan events as a collective and the holes to the safety net have never been more apparent.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David

    I’ve been making just this argument for years. I would argue that the scope of the problem is even larger than the author suggests. This is an important argument and continues to have great relevance. Yes, and the arguments by the proponents of the risk shift are often more moral than economic, compassionate, or logical. Yes, moral hazard is a real phenomenon, but highly over used by those on the right. A very simple and quick read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alice Lemon

    It was kind of interesting, if also kind of depressing, to read this sort of assessment of the state of the American economy coming from before the Great Recession--the book was written in 2006--which, of course, made many of the issues Hacker talks about even more severe.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Angela Kernell

    Written in 2006 it's interesting to note these issues continue exactly the same way 13 years later.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Chris McFadin

    Simplistic analysis of inequality; somewhat repetitive; formulaic policy prescriptions.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Louis

    Economic statistics show America is better off than it’s ever been, yet an increasing number of American’s feel that they’re in a more precarious situation than they have ever been. Using qualitative and quantitative research, Jacob Hacker’s The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care and Retirement and How You Can Fight Back suggests that such concerns are hardly unfounded. Americans are, in fact, increasingly being forced to do more with less in numerous includin Economic statistics show America is better off than it’s ever been, yet an increasing number of American’s feel that they’re in a more precarious situation than they have ever been. Using qualitative and quantitative research, Jacob Hacker’s The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care and Retirement and How You Can Fight Back suggests that such concerns are hardly unfounded. Americans are, in fact, increasingly being forced to do more with less in numerous including paying for healthcare and financing retirement. All this occurring amid a job-market that has far less job-security that previous generations had. Hacker proposes some solutions, such as unemployment insurance, that might help mitigate the instability increasing numbers of people in the United States face. The Great Risk Shift is an intriguing and provocative read that uses real world data to realistic conclusions and solutions, as opposed to some of the other works on this subject that pretend that the world of the previous generations (i.e. job security and good benefits) can be brought back. This book is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in income inequality or other relevant areas of economic policy.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Written in 2006, just before the world economy imploded like a celebrity's face after one-too-many surgeries, this book examines the systemic changes in how the United States deals with one of capitalism's integrals, risk. The author argues that agents of "personal responsibility" have been making it harder for the majority of individuals and families to manage risks to their health and to their post-retirement standard of living. Also, not only has the gap between rich and poor increased, but i Written in 2006, just before the world economy imploded like a celebrity's face after one-too-many surgeries, this book examines the systemic changes in how the United States deals with one of capitalism's integrals, risk. The author argues that agents of "personal responsibility" have been making it harder for the majority of individuals and families to manage risks to their health and to their post-retirement standard of living. Also, not only has the gap between rich and poor increased, but income has also become highly volatile. The lack of reliable protection in times of distress has turned otherwise minor setbacks into durable hardships. The author also has suggestions for rectifying the problem. These suggestions are still valid—health insurance reform is a big part—but their assumption of an economic orthodoxy still defined by Republican 'thinkers' is a bit dated at this point (2009) unless you believe in things like Fox News and Ronald Reagan arm-wrestling Jesus in heaven.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kristina

    I'm not the kind of person who normally reads books about economics or politics. It's depressing and takes a lot of brain power to focus on and I like to use reading as a way to relax. Reading about economic downturns is not really good relaxation material. I had to read this book for school, however, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. It's an interesting take on economic indicators and I appreciate the longitudinal rather than "snapshot" point of view. It's full of statistics, which some p I'm not the kind of person who normally reads books about economics or politics. It's depressing and takes a lot of brain power to focus on and I like to use reading as a way to relax. Reading about economic downturns is not really good relaxation material. I had to read this book for school, however, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. It's an interesting take on economic indicators and I appreciate the longitudinal rather than "snapshot" point of view. It's full of statistics, which some people might not like, but I love because I'm a nerd. It is really, really troubling, until you get to the conclusion, which offers a fairly comprehensive plan for how to get out of this mess we have in the US. Looking at his website, there are much more detailed plans and I find his analysis pretty convincing. Never thought I'd give a book about economics 4 stars, but I feel like I really do know more than I knew when I started and it wasn't at all painful to get through.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Joy

    This little book documents the movements both in government and industry to shift health care, retirement savings, and employment risks from society at large to the individual. Illuminates the dark side of the "ownership society" as people who hit hard times are funneled toward bankruptcy or worse--when previously unions, corporations, or government might have helped alleviate the risk. It is a good book but not much I didn't already know. Robert Reich's Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Bu This little book documents the movements both in government and industry to shift health care, retirement savings, and employment risks from society at large to the individual. Illuminates the dark side of the "ownership society" as people who hit hard times are funneled toward bankruptcy or worse--when previously unions, corporations, or government might have helped alleviate the risk. It is a good book but not much I didn't already know. Robert Reich's Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life is a more in-depth analysis of why these trends exist--the competitive pressures of globalization make it impossible to rely on the private sector the way we used to. It is really necessary to do more reading to understand these socioeconomic forces that have a lot of effect on our lives.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Terry Earley

    Almost more statistics than you can digest. Still Hacker makes a compelling argument that American families are being made to shoulder more and more of the risks in our economy. From the change from defined benefit pension plans to 401k and from "full coverage" medical plans to high deductible plans with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), to the riskiness of two income households that cannot even maintain a "middle class" lifestyle anymore, Hacker shares alarming trends in American economic life for Almost more statistics than you can digest. Still Hacker makes a compelling argument that American families are being made to shoulder more and more of the risks in our economy. From the change from defined benefit pension plans to 401k and from "full coverage" medical plans to high deductible plans with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), to the riskiness of two income households that cannot even maintain a "middle class" lifestyle anymore, Hacker shares alarming trends in American economic life for families. In the future we face privatized Social Security and likely the demise of Medicare. Not a happy or secure prospect.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Surfing Moose

    After reading this book I have to wonder if the Rep Conservatives ever get their way and remove all the safety nets (while creating the gaping chasm) why would any private citizen need to pay taxes? They will be receiving very little in return for their taxes. Okay not a review but a political critique. Also looking from the outside in, Canada in this case.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Interesting book documenting the shift in social welfare policy toward the conservative idea of "personal responsibility". The author looks at this attack on poor and working people and the erosion of benefits as beginning with Reagan's domestic policy and bnefitting corporate interest. Supposedly at the end he outlines what people can do to fight back, but I haven't finished it yet.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    I am just madly and totally in love with Jacob Hacker (as in, his writings and ideas lol -- he was my prof for two classes at Yale). They truly make you look at the world anew, and greatly help your own thought process grow and develop. Incredibly smart, well-research, discerning, relevant and the man actually cares deeply about these subjects. Fantastic!!!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Patsy

    I read it in part. He makes clear the responsibilities placed upon low income families which they cannot handle alone. Insurance is needed, as in social security. Only the rich can afford to play the market and win or lose.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Eduardo

    The "what this means for you" portion at the end feels a little forced. The analysis of economic insecurity is spot-on, though.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Scott Winship

    Badly flawed.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    Very important analysis and conclusions.... mediocre writing style, and very frequently redundant.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Raquepau

    Frightening

  23. 5 out of 5

    Scott Winship

    Badly flawed.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Prosser

    I had to stop reading this book because it was too stomach clenching and unnerving. An absolutely fascinating look at the shift of power over the years.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kai Palchikoff

    Oxford University Press

  26. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

  27. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin

  28. 5 out of 5

    abdolla abdollay

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gene

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dell

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