Nickel and Dimed

Nickel and Dimed on (Not) Getting by in America

by Barbara Ehrenreich

Overview: Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job any job can be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered. Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. She lived in trailer parks and crumbling residential motels. Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly "unskilled," that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you want to live indoors.

Nickel and Dimed reveals low-rent America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate stratagems for survival. Read it for the smoldering clarity of Ehrenreich's perspective and for a rare view of how "prosperity" looks from the bottom. You will never see anything from a motel bathroom to a restaurant meal in quite the same way again.

Sharon Weiss (03/06/19):After conversations with her publisher, the author decides to play the role of a minimum wage worker to determine whether someone can actually get by on the low wages. She travels to three cities and take a job as a waitress, house cleaner, and Walmart employee earning the minimum wage. This forces her to live in seedy motels, eat fast food, and take multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. She realizes she is better off than her co-workers because she has a Rent-a-Wreck car. The book is an eye opener even though it was written in 2001. Since then, several localities have raised their minimum wage. The book illustrates that the best defense against poverty is still a good education, marketable skills or a rich spouse. .
Rating: *****

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