The Big Squeeze
The Big Squeeze
Tough Times for the American Worker
Knopf, Hardcover, 9781400044894, 384pp.
Publication Date: April 15, 2008
The Big Squeeze takes a fresh, probing, and often shocking look at the stresses and strains faced by tens of millions of American workers as wages have stagnated, health and pension benefits have grown stingier, and job security has shriveled.
Going behind the scenes, Steven Greenhouse tells the stories of software engineers in Seattle, hotel housekeepers in Chicago, call center workers in New York, and janitors in Houston, as he explores why, in the world’s most affluent nation, so many corporations are intent on squeezing their workers dry. We meet all kinds of workers: white collar and blue collar, high tech and low tech, middle income and low income; employees who stock shelves during a hurricane while locked inside their store, get fired after suffering debilitating injuries on the job, face egregious sexual harassment, and get laid off when their companies move high-tech operations abroad. We also meet young workers having a hard time starting out and seventy-year-old workers with too little money saved up to retire.
The book explains how economic, business, political, and social trends—among them globalization, the influx of immigrants, and the Wal-Mart effect—have fueled the squeeze. We see how the social contract between employers and employees, guaranteeing steady work and good pensions, has eroded over the last three decades, damaged by massive layoffs of factory and office workers and Wall Street’s demands for ever-higher profits. In short, the post–World War II social contract that helped build the world’s largest and most prosperous middle class has been replaced by a startling contradiction: corporate profits, economic growth, and worker productivity have grown strongly while worker pay has languished and Americans face ever-greater pressures to work harder and longer.
Greenhouse also examines companies that are generous to their workers and can serve as models for all of corporate America: Costco, Patagonia, and the casino-hotels of Las Vegas among them. Finally, he presents a series of pragmatic, ready-to-be-implemented suggestions on what government, business, and labor should do to alleviate the squeeze.
A balanced, consistently revealing exploration of a major American crisis.
“Steve Greenhouse has written the essential economic book for 2008. Long before most analysts noticed the downturn, Greenhouse was reporting how troubled our economy looked from the bottom-up. A hugely talented reporter with a passion for justice, a shrewd student of the new economy and a brilliant guide to the contemporary labor movement, Greehouse writes with clarity, energy and grace.”
-E. J. Dionne Jr.
"Steven Greenhouse's brilliant and vividly reported exposé shows how employers have been squeezing the life out of American workers, through means both legal and illegal. My blood boiled when I read The Big Squeeze. Any presidential candidate–or voter–who overlooks this book will be clueless about what's really going on in America."
"In this shocking and important book, Steven Greenhouse explains–and tells the stories–of how U.S. workers are paying the price for the lower labor standards and wages that are the result of poorly-managed globalization."
-Joseph E. Stiglitz
“Excellent and relentless . . . Greenhouse’s book gives a convincing portrait of a business culture that has been more and more aggressive toward workers.”
-Jeff Madrick, New York Review of Books
“An excellent book . . . Greenhouse exhibits outrage and moral indignation and an idealism one doesn’t necessarily expect from a hard-bitten New York Times reporter.”
-The Washington Monthly
“Important and infuriating.”
“Riveting . . . a sobering examination of a growing American crisis, and . . . nothing short of brilliant.”
“New York Times labor correspondent Greenhouse drops a bombshell on local bookstores . . . Greenhouse’s clear and level prose is investigative journalism at its finest.”
-Rocky Mountain News
“Greenhouse’s The Big Squeeze is a fresh, probing look at the critical issues facing both blue- and white-collar American workers . . . The Big Squeeze will be an eye-opener for many. Don’t miss it.”
“The power of Greenhouse’s book lies . . . in its reporting, especially on low-wage workers . . . his best material vividly focuses on the always difficult and often abusive working conditions of low-paid employees. Such stories get far too little airing and rarely are they so well told.”
“Greenhouse paints a wrenching protrait of decent people who, by no fault of their own, have been fired, demoted, downsized, displaced, abandoned . . . Greenhouse’s picture should unnerve anyone committed to a stable future for American democracy.”
-Patrick J. Deneen, American Conservative
“[Greenhouse’s] reporting skills serve his book’s readers well.”
“A book . . . that will confirm your worst suspicions and fears, open your eyes and turn your stomach.”
-The Buffalo News
“Greenhouse has mastered labor market economics in a way few journalists do . . . his profiles are . . . rich in evoking sympathy and understanding for workers who struggle to both adapt and resist . . . The Big Squeeze becomes the one essential book on today’s American workplace.”
-Jack Metzgar, Dissent