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Dream Hoarders

How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It
Narrated by: Richard V. Reeves
Length: 4 hrs and 40 mins
Categories: Non-fiction, Economics
4.8 out of 5 stars (5 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

America is becoming a class-based society.

It is now conventional to focus on the wealth of the top 1 percent - especially the top 0.01 percent - and how the ultra-rich are concentrating income and prosperity while incomes for most other Americans are stagnant. But the most important, consequential, and widening gap in American society is between the upper middle class and everyone else.

Reeves defines the upper middle class as those whose incomes are in the top 20 percent of American society. Income is not the only way to measure a society, but in a market economy it is crucial because access to money generally determines who gets the best quality education, housing, health care, and other necessary goods and services.

As Reeves shows, the growing separation between the upper middle class and everyone else can be seen in family structure, neighborhoods, attitudes, and lifestyle. Those at the top of the income ladder are becoming more effective at passing on their status to their children, reducing overall social mobility. The result is not just an economic divide but a fracturing of American society along class lines. Upper-middle-class children become upper-middle-class adults.

These trends matter because the separation and perpetuation of the upper middle class corrode prospects for more progressive approaches to policy. Various forms of "opportunity hoarding" among the upper-middle class make it harder for others to rise to the top rung. Examples include zoning laws and schooling, occupational licensing, college application procedures, and the allocation of internships. Upper-middle-class opportunity hoarding, Reeves argues, results in a less competitive economy as well as a less open society.

Inequality is inevitable and can even be good, within limits. But Reeves argues that society can take effective action to reduce opportunity hoarding and thus promote broader opportunity. This fascinating book shows how American society has become the very class-defined society that earlier Americans rebelled against - and what can be done to restore a more equitable society.

©2017 Richard V. Reeves (P)2017 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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  • David Larson
  • 06-10-2017

If You Have a Grad Degree You Need To Read This!

This book is amazing. I never even considered the 1001 different ways that the upper middle class is able to game the American system to ensure that as much opportunity and wealth as possible is passed along to their kids. What a wakeup call for me...

Read this book if you want to know how Nixon was a liberal, Bernie Sanders was (in some big ways) a conservative, and everything you think you know about inequality is wrong.

I love how much fascinating information the author is able to fit into such a short book. If you happen to be in the upper middle class like me, you might want to pour yourself a glass of scotch before you read this one. This book holds up a mirror to what you thought was your own perfectly ethical behavior...and oh brother are you not going to like what you see.

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  • Mira Krishnan
  • 07-03-2019

Upper middle class: listen up.

Let me start with where I am in full agreement with Mr. Reeves. I have been speaking nationally and regionally about the reality of class privileges in the US and the reality of class in the US, and the need for the upper middle class to put away our "we are the 99%" signs and recognize our place of privilege. I think that conversation is a necessary precursor to any discussion about addressing the issues in this book. Reeves, to his credit, does spend a fair amount of time (given how short this book is) doing this topic justice, although if you are just entering this conversation, this book is more of a launching point. It is probably not critical enough of the data (see the 2/24/19 NYT piece by David Leonhardt, and also I don't think it mounts a serious response to Piketty's argument about the ultra rich and other agglomerations of money in the billions of USD). I think the title is a misservice. This book is not a screed. It is by us, about us, and for us - it's precisely the upper middle class that is the audience for this book, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who is not in our group. The solutions proposed are interesting, and are not unrealstic, albeit they could use more fleshing out. In the end, as someone who has been doing my smaller part in addressing these kinds of issues, I really respect what Reeves has to say and I think it bears more serious thought.

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  • UNC81
  • 20-06-2018

Very Good... But

Very thorough analysis! However, he never made much if a case for the conservative upper-class citizen to voluntarily change course. Relative mobility is a very tough sell. I may be over not going to Harvard 40 years ago. The combination of a middle class economic level and Jimmy Carter made the full merit-based scholarship to an excellent state school an easy decision. The same thing happened 3 years later for medical school. I am sure that similar situations are still happening to even upper middle class students today. To ask groups to voluntarily to give up dreams is a very tall order!

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  • Marie
  • 06-02-2020

Kneecap your kids & destroy internships, 509 & etc

There is a group with their own jargon, such as "opportunity hoarding", "saviorism" and the like, which I came across when listening to the Integrated Schools podcast. When trying to figure out what the heck was opportunity hoarding good explanations were hard to understand and I hoped this book would provide insight. Did Dream Hoarders provide insight? Maybe, but I really can't explain the concept without being insulting, because the author irritated me. The concept still seems vague and squishy, but I'll boil it down to kneecap your and your friends' kids, destroy internships and 509 education funds, and non-ivy league colleges and universities don't exist. The author, Mr. Reeves, lives in MoCo, MD, which is just next door to where I live in Washington, DC so I'm aware of the bubble he lives in. His kids attend, "public-private schools", these are what most people call "good schools", public schools with a lower percentage of low income, ESL, and minority kids. Our friends in Montgomery county sent their kids to these superior government schools. If parents in DC want that for their kids, we'd have to move West of the [Rock Creek] Park (WOTP) or go with private schools. The whole schools' discussion is way too big for a review and Reeves doesn't go into depth here so I'll skip it and get to the things that bugged me about the book. I, myself come from a working-lower-middle class African-American Southern background. I attended state universities, had internships and summer job opportunities in my career field, am happy in my career, and being married my household makes a low 6 figures. So Reeves' obsession with Harvard and other ivy league schools, and hostility to internships, tax deductions, and college savings plans came across as not just wanting to hold the upper-middle class back but the lower and middle-middle classes as well under some misguided idea that it would help the lower-income classes. Reeve's audience are other white upper-middle class liberal/lefties, not being white and only wishing we could be making $200K his argument falls flat with me. I have not been convinced that legacy college entrants, whatever the heck Harvard is doing, eliminating my mortgage interest deduction, and other tax breaks are a problem. If you are already leaning in that direction or exist in Reeves' bubble it probably doesn't take that much convincing. I know people who have attended Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Except for a few fields where it matters, nobody cares. Seriously. I tried to get a job for a Harvard alum friend of mine, the Harvard connection was utterly useless, as he did not have any relevant experience for the position in the organization. In the bubble, you can be convinced that those school connections really matter. But if you look at functional, not famous, but profitable or quietly successful organizations and look at the leadership, you will find a few ivies but a lot of University of [State]. Get out of Reeves' bubble and look around with a skeptic's eye. He has a problem with unpaid internships and unpaid work experience opportunities. Yes, the powerful, have abused or taken advantage of internships and other connections to help their children. For Reeves that is a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Totally ignored are programs, like internship programs like the one I, my husband and classmates used as part of our Library degree program (yes, librarians raking in the dough /sarcasm), youth work programs as like DC's Marion S. Barry created Summer Youth Employment Program (google it), and a variety of internships that provide some resume worthy work experience. Reeves is blind to how they help lift ambitious low-income, lower-mid and middle-middle class kids and wants to destroy that opportunity for the people below him in an effort to bring down others in his class. This theme of knocking out opportunities for the low-income to mid-income in the name of not hoarding opportunities continues throughout the book. Let's take another example, tax deductions. I've been doing my taxes since I was 17 with my first W-2 job working as a cashier. If you have one job, a tiny savings, and you don't make much you're filling out the 1040EZ. I didn't fill out the complicated 1040 until I bought a house. The upper classes aren't the only ones using various deductions. Self-employed low-mid income people, like my relatives, itemize. Yes, a little less than half of the filers don't itemize because the standard deduction is big enough not to bother. But Reeves ignores that and makes suggestions that would harm people like my dad the junk hauler, and my cousin who runs a barbershop in a rundown area. Reeves is so high up he can't even contemplate the damages he's suggesting. The mortgage deduction could use a cap, but not elimination. Other tax related suggestions include getting rid of the 509 college savings plans, tax benefits for retirement, tax savings when selling a home and other things Mr. and Mrs. and Ms. Middle America takes advantage of. Getting back to kids and why I wanted to understand the concept, Reeves seems to suggest kneecapping children. Not literal kneecapping, and getting CPS involved. No, but handicapping children so they won't hoard the dreams of others. Reeves fails to illustrate how what he suggests actually helps the classes below his. He says instead of bringing your own child to work on bring your kid to work day, bring some other kid. Where does this other kid come from? Who is going to let someone they vaguely know run off with their kid to do heaven knows what? A better suggestion would be for managers to suggest childless employees bring a neighbor kid/ younger sibling, etc. to their work. But it really depends on the organization, our agency provides maybe a few hours to be bored sitting at mom/dad's cubicle and then go somewhere else in the building for busywork. What concerns me greatly is how middle and upper class left leaning parents of kids with disabilities (neurodiverse, physically handicapped, etc) ingest this message. This seems like an excuse to not treat those problems early. He doesn't say it, but someone could also see it as an excuse to not support daughters. No college for you young lady. Don't make an income and marry a working class Joe. I know he doesn't say it, but to take the book to a logical conclusion, you could go there, back in the kitchen. Since this review is getting long, I will end it on a positive note. It's only four hours and British Oxbridge accents are nice to listen to. He did manage to lose his lower middle class accent, but British, not too cockney/Scottish/Yorkish I can't understand it, accents are nice. As it is four hours, one can listen to it while doing some other task.

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  • Prince213
  • 31-12-2018

Great info!

I appreciate the way that he was able to diagnose the information and tell the truth about how the American society has a class system and sets people back.

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  • jeffrey a dabe
  • 04-01-2018

Don’t feel that privileged

I am a member of the upper middle class that Reeves speaks of, but at the bottom end. I don’t feel privileged. I am able to afford a modest house for my family of five and we don’t have a lot of worries about money, but we also don’t live high on the hog. I am willing to sacrifice, but the sacrifice needs to extend to the very top.

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  • C. Perelli-Minetti
  • 24-09-2018

Half right, Half exasperating, Ultimately Naive

I suspect much of the appeal of this book for what he calls ‘upper middle class’ listeners is Reeves’ almost RP accent - which conjures up evening spent watching Downton Abbey and the Crown. Well done, Richard. Having the advantage of seeing American society as an upper middle class quasi-outsider - no educate Brit can ever be a true outsider in this land of adoration of most things perceived as British - Reeves is perceptive in describing what our upper middle class is in the process of becoming. He strikes me as profoundly naive, however, in conflating the earned privileges of the upper middle class with the still legally enforced privileges of the British aristocracy, even in its broader form that includes their non titled children and relations. We have no equivalent of the squirearchy or the monarchy, however much some would to have it in substance (though, of course, not form). He might well be on firmer ground if he saw (he may well, the book does not make the point) our growing bureaucracy based in Washington as something akin to the permanent Establishment of the British civil service. (Much of which, it should be noted, has worked assiduously over the past 50 years to thwart the policies of Tory prime ministers from Harold Macmillan to Margaret Thatcher and down to the present day. But I digress. Where Reeves is exasperating are in his naive assumptions that his position is the morally superior, that all forms of inequality are ultimately inherently wrong, and in his almost touching commitment to a Jacobin, almost Marxian, notion of the perfectibility of human nature. For virtually all of his prescriptions for change are based on the notion that human beings will ignore what they perceive (accurately, he admits ) as their broader self-interest (i.e., including children and descendants) in order to support policies designed to ensure more (though not total) equality of result. Moreover, perhaps because of ignorance of American history, Reeves seems to fail to understand that almost all of the things he cites, such as zoning, tax breaks for housing, standardized testing, etc. were originally progressive reforms intended in many cases to increase opportunity. He seems to have missed the lectures on the law of unintended consequences. Again, it goes to his naivete, but perhaps Reeves' fundamental error is in seeing all of these barriers as intentionally created for the purpose of keeping the masses down. That said, I think the book is useful for the honesty and clarity of the diagnosis. I’d love to give it a split rating: 5 stars for observation and exposition of his diagnosis, and 0-1 stars for moral preening and prescription.

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  • John P.
  • 13-09-2020

Unrealistic. Individuals are Self-Interested.

I enjoyed this book and especially the authenticity of the performance, but in truth the book’s underlying dreams are unrealistic fantasies. The author’s perspective is that of a British citizen who abandoned the existing class-system of England in favor of the presumed non-class system of meritocratic USA, but then discovers with disappointment that the crossroads of individualism, consumerism, and meritocracy are creating an American class-system that, once-established, has built-in advantages that protect the upper class and heavily disadvantage the lowest classes from upward social mobility in what is in essence a zero-sum-game. The authors excellent research throughout the book is typically hyper-focused on a variety of relevant subtopics regarding the inequalities of various stratums of our population achieving the illusive American Dream, and he couches that research in his opinions that are fairly naive. For example, as a foundational requirement of his vision, he believes that you can regulate and/or create incentives for teachers being of the same quality across all schools in all neighborhoods of the country. This is a fantasy. While that is an admirable utopia, it cannot happen because there are far too many conflicts of interest in the system itself such as inflexible and protectionist teacher unions, unfair attacks by those unions on the very successful Charter Schools, personal capability differences in the teacher population, etc. (not to mention that the students themselves in the lower quintiles would need to be receptive to learning), as well as in individual American-bred individualism and competition. Teachers all have different personal goals for their own personal economies and families. Teaching at one school in one neighborhood is not the same as teaching in another and no matter how hard you try for equality in teachers, you will always have standouts who will always be in demand elsewhere. The authors very small pay incentive is meaningless compared to the economic, safety, and personal lifestyle choices of a teacher who themselves may be trying to climb the social mobility ladder. Other obvious flaws in his utopia is the continuous hypocrisy from elected officials. The elected officials are some of the most abusive on protecting their own privilege and to his credit, the author points that out in various examples from Bill de Blasio to NIMBYism (not-in-my-back-yard syndrome). There are so many more constraints to this authors solutions which apparently will require massive awareness and forward thinking from institutions such as Zoning Boards, College Admission and enrollment management teams all across the USA, various professional unions, Federal and State regulators passing bi-partisan legislation, and even the IRS running a new government program; and that is separate from each and every privileged individual in the top 20% of wage-earners to take a self-assessment to recognize the unfairness in the system, forgo thinking about the wellness of their kids in such an entrenched system, being willing to personally pay the bill for a re-balancing of the playing field, and feeling some sort of shame that they are in the USA’s top quintile and “privileged class”. Dream on. Those institutional areas of the USA are hard-fought trench wars that are in some cases hopelessly stale-mated, and in other cases, monopolies or oligopolies, but on all cases run by the “upper-class” influencers that are being dis-intermediated. And on the individual side, this message will fall on deaf ears. They will never knowingly as a group give up their status, wealth, or advantages that come as a result of their social position. My conclusions are a bit different. I think that class system is a normal byproduct of a USA democratic beginning that empowers individuals to be all that they can be and accept the rewards that come with risk-taking, hard work, and hopeful success. I think we ought to consider that the way the system is evolving is exactly predictable as it relates to each individual who has been raised with the notion of competition between your peers, meritocracy, achieve your version of the American dream without breaking the law, care about keeping what you have earned and/or acquired, care about your kids, use your wisdom and connections as parents to help your kids, and teach them how to further the legacy, including wealth, that you are leaving behind. Philanthropy can be a part of it, but giving up your status in the upper ranks should not be a requirement. No-one other than rare outliers will do that. This author has three sons. I wonder where they go (or went) to school- public or private? I wonder where they will go (or went) to college? Will this author forbid his kids those privileges that they will be inheriting as a result of them being the children of a talented and connected author? Does this author live in the bottom quintile neighborhood in order to promote diversity and his personal statement that each one of us can do their part? Does this author give away that part of his earnings that is above the median USA income? I highly doubt it. I imagine this author has the instinct that we all do to try to get ahead and do the best that we can for our family and kids. The future as I see it is that the class system will become more pronounced over time and that is the natural outcome of the system that we have created as a country. Artificial manipulations of that system by regulations and taxation can affect but not change the inherent nature of individual self-interest. Realistic change could focus on moving up a quintile or maybe two rather than moving from the bottom to the top just because the system is unfair for the bottom (by the way, that transporting from the bottom to the top is equally unfair for the middle quintiles being passed over by the bottom. Who is taking care of their fairness? Shame on all of us for ignoring them in favor of the lowest quintile, according to the author). I agree that education (and parenting) are great places to start. Lastly, it’s much more likely that you’ll get a lot more cooperation from the upper class if you quit trying to vilify them for living their version of the American dream, the one that was given to them by their parents who did so in the name of love for their kids, and this great country (yes, with all of its flaws).

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  • T. K. Carter
  • 15-06-2020

Check your privilege?

Well paced, finished quickly at 1.5 speed. Makes you look at just how important the first twenty years of development are to all of us.

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  • redbear
  • 02-07-2018

Informative selection of American classism

Dream hoarders explains how the upper middle class is hoarding wealth from everybody else below. It provides solutions to help curtail the accumulation of wealth by listing a set of policies and ideas to prevent the wealth stripping experienced by America's lower classes. I would recommend this book because the author does a masterful job of depicting how the upper middle class hoards wealth. he is very honest and his assessment and fully understands that his own position means that others will fall.

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  • jburnmurdoch
  • 30-09-2018

Required reading for the privileged class

A vital read for fellow members of the meritocracy, especially as societies on both sides of the Atlantic deal with the fallout from democratic shocks meted out by the losers of the new dominant socio-economic sorting system. Reeves delivers hard truths about how fair the modern US meritocratic system really is, and whether the idea of US exceptionalism — the land of the American Dream™️ — is justified. Zoning laws, unpaid internships and the college admissions system are all in the dock, as Reeves makes the case that what often appear to be respectable — even admirable — goals and policies can produce and ossify class structures, inequality and social immobility. Unequal access to childcare and early years education are also discussed in depth, and for every mechanism that Reeves believes is part of the problem, he proposes possible solutions, from personal decisions to government policies. All in all, an excellent, thoroughly researched and refreshingly evidence-based examination of the causes of worsening social mobility in America, providing plenty of challenging proposals for readers to consider at the end.