Nickel and dimed On (not) getting by in America

Barbara Ehrenreich

Book - 2008

Liberal culturalist, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to examine the lives of women attempting to live in America on $6 or $7 an hour. She traveled from near her home in Florida through Maine to Minnesota, to see how the bottom third of wage earners live. At times funny and heartbreaking, her experiences as a waitress, cleaning woman, nursing home aide, and Wal-Mart employee paralleled those encountered by adolescents at their first jobs. Even with Ehrenreich's advantages of education, health, a ...car, and money saved for emergencies, she still had to work two jobs, seven days a week, to make ends meet. More importantly, she saw how badly America treats it working poor, both personally and legally.

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Subjects
Published
New York : Holt Paperbacks [2008]
Edition
1st Holt Paperbacks ed
Language
English
Item Description
Reprint of first Holt Paperbacks edition, 2002. With new afterword.
Physical Description
244 p. ; 21 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN
9780805088380
0805088385
Main Author
Barbara Ehrenreich (-)
  • Introduction: Getting ready
  • Serving in Florida
  • Scrubbing in Maine
  • Selling in Minnesota
  • Evaluation
  • Afterword: Nickel and dimed
  • Reader's guide.
Review by Booklist Reviews

This is social critic Ehrenreich's twelfth book, an on-the-job study of how a single mother (or anyone else) leaving welfare could survive without government assistance in the form of food stamps, Medicaid, and housing and child-care subsidies. To find the answers, Ehrenreich left her home in Key West and traveled from Florida to Maine and then to Minnesota, working in low-paying Jobs. Ehrenreich, who holds a Ph.D. in biology, resolved not to fall back on any skills derived from her education or usual work and to take the cheapest accommodations in motels and trailer parks as long as there was "an acceptable level of safety and privacy." The "working poor," Ehrenreich concludes, "are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high." ((Reviewed April 1, 2001)) Copyright 2001 Booklist Reviews

Review by Library Journal Reviews

A close observer and astute analyzer of American life (The Worst Years of Our Life and The Fear of Falling), Ehrenreich turns her attention to what it is like trying to subsist while working in low-paying jobs. Inspired to see what boom times looked like from the bottom, she hides her real identity and attempts to make a life on a salary of just over $300 per week after taxes. She is often forced to work at two jobs, leaving her time and energy for little else than sleeping and working. Ehrenreich vividly describes her experiences living in isolated trailers and dilapidated motels while working as a nursing-home aide, a Wal-Mart "sales associate," a cleaning woman, a waitress, and a hotel maid in three states Florida, Maine, and Minnesota. Her narrative is candid, often moving, and very revealing. Looking back on her experiences, Ehrenreich claims that the hardest thing for her to accept is the "invisibility of the poor"; one sees them daily in restaurants, hotels, discount stores, and fast-food chains but one doesn't recognize them as "poor" because, after all, they have jobs. No real answers to the problem but a compelling sketch of its reality and pervasiveness. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/01.] Jack Forman, San Diego Mesa Coll. Lib. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

In contrast to recent books by Michael Lewis and Dinesh D'Souza that explore the lives and psyches of the New Economy's millionares, Ehrenreich (Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class, etc.) turns her gimlet eye on the view from the workforce's bottom rung. Determined to find out how anyone could make ends meet on $7 an hour, she left behind her middle class life as a journalist except for $1000 in start-up funds, a car and her laptop computer to try to sustain herself as a low-skilled worker for a month at a time. In 1999 and 2000, Ehrenreich worked as a waitress in Key West, Fla., as a cleaning woman and a nursing home aide in Portland, Maine, and in a Wal-Mart in Minneapolis, Minn. During the application process, she faced routine drug tests and spurious "personality tests"; once on the job, she endured constant surveillance and numbing harangues over infractions like serving a second roll and butter. Beset by transportation costs and high rents, she learned the tricks of the trade from her co-workers, some of whom sleep in their cars, and many of whom work when they're vexed by arthritis, back pain or worse, yet still manage small gestures of kindness. Despite the advantages of her race, education, good health and lack of children, Ehrenreich's income barely covered her month's expenses in only one instance, when she worked seven days a week at two jobs (one of which provided free meals) during the off-season in a vacation town. Delivering a fast read that's both sobering and sassy, she gives readers pause about those caught in the economy's undertow, even in good times. (May) Forecast: Based on an article Ehrenreich originally wrote for Harper's magazine, and supported by an author tour, this book will draw significant review attention and solid sales Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Review by School Library Journal Reviews

Adult/High School-Between 1998 and 2000, Ehrenreich spent about three months in three cities throughout the nation, attempting to "get by" on the salary available to low-paid and unskilled workers. Beginning with advantages not enjoyed by many such individuals-she is white, English-speaking, educated, healthy, and unburdened with transportation or child-care worries-she tried to support herself by working as a waitress, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart employee. She discovered that her average salary of $7 per hour couldn't even provide the necessities of life (rent, transportation, and food), let alone the luxury of health coverage. Her account is at once enraging and sobering. In straightforward language, she describes how labor-intensive, demeaning, and controlling such jobs can be: she scrubbed floors on her hands and knees, and found out that talking to coworkers while on the job was considered "time theft." She describes full-time workers who sleep in their cars because they cannot afford housing and employees who yearn for the ability to "take a day off now and then-and still be able to buy groceries the next day." In a concluding chapter, Ehrenreich takes on issues and questions posed before and during the experiment, including why these wages are so low, why workers are so accepting of them, and what Washington's refusal to increase the minimum wage to a realistic "living wage" says about both our economy and our culture. Mandatory reading for any workforce entrant.-Dori DeSpain, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

In an attempt to understand the lives of Americans earning near-minimum wages, Ehrenreich works as a waitress in Florida, a cleaning woman in Maine, and a sales clerk in Minnesota.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

In an updated edition of her best-selling, landmark study, the sharp social critic and author of Fear of Falling looks underneath the illusion of American prosperity at poverty and hopelessness in America, with a new afterword that offers a revealing look at the continuing plight of the underpaid and how the current economic situation affects them. Reprint.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

The bestselling, landmark work of undercover reportage, now updatedAcclaimed as an instant classic upon publication, Nickel and Dimed has sold more than 1.5 million copies and become a staple of classroom reading. Chosen for “one book” initiatives across the country, it has fueled nationwide campaigns for a living wage. Funny, poignant, and passionate, this revelatory firsthand account of life in low-wage America—the story of Barbara Ehrenreich’s attempts to eke out a living while working as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart associate—has become an essential part of the nation’s political discourse.Now, in a new afterword, Ehrenreich shows that the plight of the underpaid has in no way eased: with fewer jobs available, deteriorating work conditions, and no pay increase in sight, Nickel and Dimed is more relevant than ever.