"Backward mobility" is one term economists use to describe the descent of many middle-class families into "the bottom 50% of Americans who collectively have a negative net worth." That financial trend is the background for Eli Saslow's piece for the Washington Post on the "death spiral of an American family." The story begins by recounting how a son, Dave Ramsey Jr., struggled to raise cash to cremate his father, Dave Sr., a former police officer, Mason, and Little League ump who died of a heart attack in bed beside a collections notice. Divorce, Detroit-area real estate that lost much of its value during the Great Recession, and medical bills put the elder Ramsey among "the record 23% of Americans in the past 5 years who have died with a negative net worth," passing only financial woes to the next generation.
Dave Jr.'s own work history began with a job injury followed by an opioid addiction, and he was barely making ends meet as a landscape contractor. Among the family's debts: $681 to Verizon and more than $12,000 to the doctor who signed Dave Sr.'s death certificate. As the article makes clear, Dave Jr. is not the only one to carry the burden. His 17-year-old daughter, Brionna, dropped out of high school to work full-time and help the family. She also hoped to save money for a car that would get her from Michigan to California, where she dreams of opening a tea shop. But the Ramseys don't have a car, and Brionna spends up to a third of her income on rideshares; the rest goes to basic expenses and bills. (Read the full story here, which recounts Brionna's struggle to scrape together $5 to get home from work on an 8-degree night.)