"Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America," Alissa Quart, Ecco/HarperCollins, 312 pages, $27.99.

It wasn’t long ago that the term “middle class” suggested security, conformity and often complacency — a cohort that was such a reliable feature of postwar American life that it attracted not just political pandering but also cultural ridicule.

The stereotype included everyone from men in gray flannel suits to the slick professionals of “Thirtysomething,” stuck or smug in their world of bourgeois comforts.

“Squeezed,” a timely new book by the journalist and poet Alissa Quart, arrives at a moment when members of the middle class are no longer a robust demographic but an embattled and shrinking population, struggling to hold on to their delicate perch in an unforgiving economic order.

Quart calls it “the Middle Precariat” — those who believed their educations and backgrounds would guarantee some financial stability. Her sharp reporting is reason enough to read “Squeezed,” especially as she brings to light how parents try to cope with the financial strain of caring for children.

For all that legislators like to sentimentalize family values and hard work, they have largely abdicated their responsibility toward families, who are left to navigate a job market that prefers its employees childless and unencumbered.

The result is that hardworking parents resort to creative (but complicated and demanding) co-parenting arrangements or, as detailed in one unforgettable chapter, 24-hour day care.

NEW YORK TIMES