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Chapter 12 Work and the Economy

Social Problems in the News

“White-Collar Workers Join Crowds Straining Food Banks,” the headline said. Amid the nation’s continuing faltering economy, middle-class families across the United States who had lost their jobs were being forced to get free food at food pantries. One woman, who lost her job as a consultant, said her family’s savings had dwindled to less than $200. “Without the network of food pantries around us, I don’t know how we would have eaten,” she said. As more middle-class workers were turning to the food pantries, the pantries’ donations had fallen. As one food pantry official put it, “We’re seeing many faces from the middle class who had been donors who now need support from our food bank. Right now, our donations are softer than we would like them to be.” Meanwhile, a survey of college-educated New York residents found that 30 percent said they had trouble affording food.

Source: Cole, 2012Cole, P. (2012, January 11). White-collar workers join crowd straining food banks. Retrieved from

One of the most momentous events of the twentieth century was the Great Depression, which engulfed the United States in 1929 and spread to the rest of the world, lasting almost a decade. Millions were thrown out of work, and bread lines became common. In the United States, a socialist movement gained momentum for a time as many workers blamed US industry and capitalism for their unemployment.

The Depression involved the failing of the economy. The economy also failed in the United States beginning in late 2007, when the country entered what has been called the Great Recession. Although the recession has officially ended, the jobless rate remains much higher than before the recession. The news article that began this chapter provides just a small illustration of the millions of lives that have been affected.

This chapter examines the many problems related to work and the economy in the United States today. It also examines the related issues of economic inequality and economic mobility. As we shall see, the United States has a mediocre record in both these areas when compared to other wealthy democracies.