Book | January 22, 2019

The New Dollars and Dreams

Frank Levy’s classic Dollars and Dreams offered an incisive analysis of the dramatic changes then taking place in the American standard of living. As wage stagnation and rising income inequality in the 1970s and early 80s began to undermine Americans’ traditional economic optimism, Levy’s book provided the first diagnosis of what he called the quiet depression.

Since then, the U.S. economy has made a dramatic comeback, but economic insecurity remains widespread. New technologies, increased immigration, and global competition have opened up a new economic playing field, one with new rules and new winners and losers. The New Dollars and Dreams explores this puzzling economic landscape, in which low unemployment goes hand in hand with sluggish wage growth and high income inequality. This completely revised and expanded version of Levy’s original book offers an invaluable guide to the sweeping economic, social, and political changes that have remade life in the United States over the past twenty-five years. Levy tells a fascinating and insightful story about what happened to American incomes and jobs. His plot resists the simple truths of everyday journalism, and explains the economic and political twists and turns that have shaped the current American economy―including the oil and food price inflations of the 1970s, the market deregulations and corporate downsizings of the 1980s, the emergence of women as sole breadwinners in many families, the migration of jobs to the suburbs, and the computerization of work. The New Dollars and Dreams illuminates the key sources of inequality, with chapters that examine the disparate employment progress of whites, minorities, men, and women, and it carefully investigates the claim that the concentration of very high incomes is the result of a winner-take-all economy. Although the growth of the service economy is often blamed for inequality, Levy locates a more fundamental cause in the rising educational and skill demands brought about by restructuring of work in all sectors of the economy. An important part of the story also involves the transformation of the American family from extended and two-parent households to those headed by single mothers and lone individuals. By making sense of these complex trends, The New Dollars and Dreams offers crucial insights into why, despite a thriving economy, many Americans no longer feel secure in their financial futures. A Volume in the Russell Sage Foundation Census Series