What frustrates Hanna Newberg about her life right now isn't just that she's working as a waitress at a chain restaurant or renting a small apartment in western Massachusetts. The problem, Newberg says, is that she did everything she was told she was supposed to do -- went to college, went to graduate school -- and still, she's waiting tables.
Newberg, 26, is like millions of young Americans who are finding that the paths they assumed would lead them to middle-class lives -- the paths many of their parents took -- no longer promise economic stability. The long wake of the recession has exposed an American economy that has been restructured over the last three decades. As a result, many jobs that once made it possible to reach the middle class are less reliable.
Newberg grew up in a home where her father's paycheck was modest but consistent. Steve Newberg, 60, a tall lanky man with long pulled back hair, has been a postal worker since two years before Hanna, the older of his two daughters, was born. Steve's wife, Robin Newberg, 54, had worked as an elementary school teacher and then left to raise their children in their well-kept home in a quiet semi-rural street in Granby, Connecticut.
On Steve's post office salary -- now just over $27 an hour, padded with extra money he makes running sound systems for events -- the Newbergs paid the mortgage on their home and even saved a little. "I was able to really provide everything that we needed," Steve said. "It wasn't a lot but we had what we needed."
But the kind of good-paying blue-collar union job that Steve has held for years is harder to find for the next generation.
When Hanna graduated from high school, she applied to Southern Connecticut State University. She graduated with a bachelor's degree and promptly went to graduate school in library science, an area she thought was practical, so she could become a school librarian. "It's the kind of job I sort of thought was a responsible thing to go after," she said. "I was excited about it."
Up until that point, Steve says, "It was all working as it was supposed to" for his children, including Hanna. His own father found middle-class stability out of the lasting post-World War II boom and its programs like the GI Bill. He passed the wealth he accumulated as a middle manager at a Connecticut insurance firm on to Steve and Robin as help with a down payment and an inheritance. In turn, Steve worked to pass it on to his own kids, too.