Think of Alissa Quart’s new book, Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America, as “What to Expect When You’re Expecting Under Late Capitalism.” Of the more than 50,000 books listed on Amazon under “Parenting,” few engage as deeply with the economic pressures today’s parents must navigate: precarious work, a shortage of high-quality, affordable daycare and rising costs of living combined with stagnant wages.
Quart, the executive editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, also profiles efforts to improve the lives of parents and care workers –– and offers suggestions about what’s still to be done. She spoke with In These Times about the challenges of organizing parents, why we’re so attached to the fantasy of middle-class life and why she considers her book “radical self-help.”
In These Times: I’m interested in the theme of self-blame that runs through Squeezed. You write that after your daughter was born, and it became clear that you and your husband’s freelance earnings weren’t going to be enough to raise her, you began to blame yourself. Why did you have that reaction?
Alissa Quart: I think we have a tendency to blame ourselves, or we blame others. It’s binary. You can see that tendency in the way some disenfranchised groups now blame immigrants, say, and then on the other side, there’s a lot of rhetoric of self-punishment in American culture that you’re responsible for your own success and if you don’t make it then there’s something wrong with you.
The self-blame and guilt discourse comes from conservatives but it also emanates off of a certain kind of bootstrap self-help, like Lean In. “Why aren’t you asking for a raise, why aren’t you earning more money, why aren’t you doing more for your child?” There’s a perfectionism that places a lot of pressure on parents.
What role do employers and the welfare state, such as it is, play in reinforcing parents’ tendency towards self-blame?
We don’t have…