The authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the first couple to receive a Pulitzer Journalism Prize, knew there was a problem when they shared similarities between the humanitarian crises they reported as foreign correspondents in developing countries and scenes from Kristofs Hometown in rural Oregon.
"We really figured this out because I'm still very close to the kids in my old school bus in Yamhill, Oregon," said Kristof to Tony Dokoupil's co-host of "CBS This Morning" on the "CBS This Morning" podcast. "We went our separate ways, but we remain friends. And a quarter of these children in my old school bus have now died of despair."
This includes deaths due to complications related to years of alcohol abuse, drug overdoses, suicides and reckless accidents. These problems are afflicting workers' communities across the country, which are suffering from stagnating wages, poor education and poor health care.
In their new book "Tightrope: Americans Reaching For Hope", Kristof and WuDunn document how these obstacles, coupled with bad decisions, cause people in rural and urban communities to stay afloat.
"I honestly don't think that in journalism we have adequately conveyed the pain and despair that is in many American countries. For many Americans, it's like the Great Depression," said Kristoff. "Apart from the fact that even in the Great Depression,wasn't falling for Americans three years in a row. And at least in the Great Depression, you had a president and a congress that were desperately trying to counter it. And nowadays, I think for many people it not only seems that there are no efforts to counteract this, but nobody really realizes it. "
Globalization and automation forced some of the workforce to feel less useful, but WuDunn said that achieving this dissatisfaction was not inevitable.
"Globalization is global. It affects all these other countries, especially our peer countries in Europe, and they don't present us with the same challenges as we experience them."
She referred to Portugal as an example. In 2001, when the United States intensified its war on drugs and spent billions of dollars trying to detain drug users, Portugal decriminalized all drugs.
"They actually chose a public health approach. And instead of putting these drug users in jail, they actually put them in rehabilitation. And it turned out to be very successful. So they overdosed by two Lowered third. " and they're the lowest drug overdose country in Europe, while we in the US, like this policy, have millions more people in prison. "
Kristoff said that both Democrats and Republicans have their fingerprints on these issues, and while "Tightrope" examines how decades of government policies have hurt workers, the authors also highlight the poor choices that can lead a person to a path of despair ,
"Ultimately, the people we write about don't want the compassion of the reader. What they want is dignity. And I think we conveyed this when telling the stories and conveyed this complicated feeling to them personal responsibility back. "
It's complicated, he said, because the popular mantra "pull your boots up" used to be the opposite of what it's doing now – an impossible task – and is now accepted as a recipe for one person should to do.
"Look, there will always be inequalities in the country, but we can do a little better to widen this wire rope and install some nets and rigging and support children," said Kristof. "And the reason why we wrote this is maybe more than anything else that we saw on our trips back to Yamhill that the children and grandchildren of some of my old friends really have problems because they sometimes grew up in malfunctioning houses "And it's too late to help the kids who were on the bus with me, but their kids and grandchildren, you know, we have to fight for them."
Listen to Kristof and WuDunn's podcast interview with Dokoupil about "CBS This Morning" to learn how President Donald Trump captured support for white working class in America, why Democrats didn't communicate effectively with this constituency, and why they did more The future has hope after researching and writing this book.