Scott Winship writes at National Review Online that he’s not buying a recent high-profile argument about middle-class economic woes.

The Atlantic’s cover story this month is a piece by writer Neal Gabler in which he relates his personal tale of financial distress, using it as a frame for what he takes to be widespread insecurity across the broad middle class. “Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency,” goes the subhead. “I’m one of them.”

The writer’s story sounds tragic in many ways, yet the fact that he doesn’t fully own up to his bad choices makes it difficult to have sympathy. True, Gabler says that he is “responsible” for his “quagmire,” and that he “screwed up, royally.” But about choices he also writes: “We don’t make them with our financial well-being in mind, though maybe we should. We make them with our lives in mind. The alternative is to be another person.”

Gabler also casts blame squarely on the economy, which he thinks no longer supports middle-class Americans like him and pushes them into similarly dire straits. He is unique only in his bravery in revealing the “secret shame” pervading the financially strapped middle class. The generalization of his personal experience to a supposedly teetering citizenry is what makes the piece especially problematic. It is not so much that Gabler’s is an unsympathetic story; it’s that it’s just not that common.

The case he makes is deeply flawed. The number of people who can’t immediately afford $400 in an emergency is smaller than Gabler thinks, and many of them aren’t as bad off as he thinks. The economy is not failing people like he believes it has failed him. He is — much as he might not want to believe it — an outlier. There is no widespread financial “shame” that middle-class Americans are keeping secret. …

… Not only are there fewer people who can’t afford a $400 emergency than Gabler thinks, but the number who can’t afford such an emergency and who also experience one is even smaller. For instance, 24 percent in the Fed survey had unexpected major medical costs they had to pay out of pocket (and not necessarily costs totaling $400). The Pew Charitable Trusts figures that Gabler cites indicate that one in three adults had an unexpected expense that “made it harder” for their household to “make ends meet for a while.” Note that the wording is “harder,” not “hard.” That’s why, among those adults with an income of $100,000 or more who experienced a shock, one-third said it had made it “harder to make ends meet.”

There is a bigger point here. Public and private policies and institutions actually reduce the likelihood that we face emergency costs of $400 or more. The number of Americans experiencing an unaffordable medical shock would be higher than 24 percent if not for employer- and government-provided health insurance. Such insurance can be viewed as a form of forced savings, in that it is financed by employees and taxpayers through lower wages and higher taxes.