Listen to Marla and Darren Summer. Audio Producer: Sarah P. Reynolds

Marla and Darren Sumner earned professional degrees, he as an architect and she as an interior designer, and made a good living until they were laid off in 2008. Since then, they’ve had trouble finding work. Marla has even applied for a job as a cashier at a home-improvement specialty store and was rejected because she was over “over-qualified.” They’ve been collecting unemployment to make ends meet and watching pennies by conserving gas and shopping at low-end chain stores. They dropped their cable service and use internet at the local library. “It’s a paradigm shift,” said Marla. “I think that we lost blue-collar jobs. We are losing professional jobs now. And I think we’ve really sold out our country.” To improve what she sees as a failing American society, Marla believes the government needs to increase the minimum wage and strengthen the safety net by providing universal health care. “We are all deserving of humane basic consideration,” she says. On the upside, the recession has forced people to do more with less, which she says is good for the environment. “I think it’s stimulating for people to think, ‘Do I really need to drive, do I really need to make that trip?”

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“In 1978, it might have been economically feasible and perfectly legal for an executive to award himself a multimillion-dollar bonus while shedding 40 percent of his work force and requiring the survivors to take annual furloughs without pay. But no executive would have wanted the shame and outrage that would have followed any more than an executive today would want to be quoted using a racial slur or photographed with a paid escort.”

- The Broken Contract: Inequality and American Decline by George Packe