And Garson is the perfect person to write a book about economic injustice. Since the '60s, she has been reporting on and advocating for populist issues. She played a key role in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and she's written three other books on work and our financial system.
"Down the Up Escalator" starts with the stories of four funky New Yorkers she calls the "Pink Slip Club." Garson describes the frustrations and indignities these professionals suffer looking for work after losing their jobs early in the recession. Garson keeps track of them for several years as they all fail to win back mid-level white-color positions.
Elaine, who'd worked in accounts payable for a broadcasting conglomerate, eventually starts to fantasize about scoring some hours helping in a hole-in-the-wall shop that converts records to CDs. Gerri, who had been an insurance adjuster, experiences similar disappointments, and becomes increasingly anxious as expenses bite chunks out of her shrinking savings. (Garson named these members of the Pink Slip Club after two of the main characters from the Seinfeld TV series.)
Then there are the men. Feldman, previously a very busy graphics designer, was finding that even temp work was scarce. Kevin, who'd been an editor at a trade journal, was struggling because he felt employers preferred hiring recent graduates to experienced professionals in their 50s.
Garson is an excellent storyteller. And she's a good listener – even, apparently, in this book when interviewing individuals involved in the type of financial manipulation that yanked our economy to its knees.
But one inherent weakness of a collection like this is that it can't possibly tell the full story of what's happened to working families. And even during the recession, many people continued to do just fine. Meanwhile, Garson spends a lot of time talking to New Yorkers and Californians, whose crises represent only part of the picture.