Politicians and pundits in Washington are currently obsessed over the so-called fiscal cliff, an elaborate game of chicken wherein the failure to reach a budget compromise would lead to both higher taxes and draconian spending cuts, likely plummeting the economy back into recession.

What most commentaries ignore, however, is the fact that far too many American families went off the financial cliff a long time ago. Working and low-income families have suffered from a triple whammy in recent decades: stagnant wages and vanishing jobs and the devastating impact of the 2008 recession. The result is that many families simply have no safety net — an estimated 24 percent of American households have no or even fewer assets.

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