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Of the two million waiters and waitresses working in America,” Batya Ungar-Sargon writes, “just over half own their homes.” My wife, who worked as a waitress for fifteen years, was in the lucky half. But we have watched many of her friends and colleagues struggle. Whether they work in the front of the house (managers and waitstaff) or the back (cooks and cleaners), the story is the same. They struggle to get and keep healthcare; they can be crippled by seemingly minor financial setbacks like a sickness, a mugging, or a car accident; and their general trajectory involves moving from apartment to apartment until they have a kid or two, at which point they get priced out of the Bay Area and have to move away. We rarely hear what happens to them after that.

The decline in home ownership among service industry workers—from 58 percent in 2000 to 54 percent in 2020 nationwide—is one sign that the American dream is increasingly out of reach for working Americans. That is the story Ungar-Sargon tells in Second Class, which combines interviews with the author’s economic analysis. “It’s undeniable,” she writes, “that in the post-pandemic world, working-class wages are up, in some cases significantly. But for millions and millions of the hardest working Americans, even these better wages are vastly unequal to the cost of purchasing a middle-class life—a home, a vacation here and there, the ability to retire in dignity, adequate health care, and a better future for their kids.” Nor, I would add, are they guaranteed a day of Sabbath rest. 

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