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Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America [Kindle Edition]

Barbara Ehrenreich
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,636 customer reviews)

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Kindle Price: $9.99
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Book Description

Our sharpest and most original social critic goes "undercover" as an unskilled worker to reveal the dark side of American prosperity.

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 int 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.



Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Essayist and cultural critic Barbara Ehrenreich has always specialized in turning received wisdom on its head with intelligence, clarity, and verve. With some 12 million women being pushed into the labor market by welfare reform, she decided to do some good old-fashioned journalism and find out just how they were going to survive on the wages of the unskilled--at $6 to $7 an hour, only half of what is considered a living wage. So she did what millions of Americans do, she looked for a job and a place to live, worked that job, and tried to make ends meet.

As a waitress in Florida, where her name is suddenly transposed to "girl," trailer trash becomes a demographic category to aspire to with rent at $675 per month. In Maine, where she ends up working as both a cleaning woman and a nursing home assistant, she must first fill out endless pre-employment tests with trick questions such as "Some people work better when they're a little bit high." In Minnesota, she works at Wal-Mart under the repressive surveillance of men and women whose job it is to monitor her behavior for signs of sloth, theft, drug abuse, or worse. She even gets to experience the humiliation of the urine test.

So, do the poor have survival strategies unknown to the middle class? And did Ehrenreich feel the "bracing psychological effects of getting out of the house, as promised by the wonks who brought us welfare reform?" Nah. Even in her best-case scenario, with all the advantages of education, health, a car, and money for first month's rent, she has to work two jobs, seven days a week, and still almost winds up in a shelter. As Ehrenreich points out with her potent combination of humor and outrage, the laws of supply and demand have been reversed. Rental prices skyrocket, but wages never rise. Rather, jobs are so cheap as measured by the pay that workers are encouraged to take as many as they can. Behind those trademark Wal-Mart vests, it turns out, are the borderline homeless. With her characteristic wry wit and her unabashedly liberal bent, Ehrenreich brings the invisible poor out of hiding and, in the process, the world they inhabit--where civil liberties are often ignored and hard work fails to live up to its reputation as the ticket out of poverty. --Lesley Reed

From Publishers Weekly

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Product Details


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
373 of 419 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I really wanted to like this book but... March 11, 2002
Format:Hardcover
I'm not sure I'll be able to adequately explain my feelings about this book. While I expected to love it, it left me disappointed. But I can't understand all the anger I've seen in reviews I have read. Barbara Ehrenreich's heart is in the right place, I'm just not sure that she has the proper attitude or experience to write a realistic picture of what it's like to try to survive on a low paying job. She tried, though, and I suppose I need to give her more credit for that. Her premise is that no one can have a decent standard of living while working for minimum wage, and I agree it's very difficult. But she believed that before she started her experiment, and I don't think she learned anything new from her adventures in the world of low paying jobs. She only searched for details that confirmed what she already believed, and in the end, she persists in placing blame on the workers who probably feel trapped in a situation they don't know how to leave.
I think that the major fault I find with this book is Ms. Ehrenreich's attitude. She seems condescending towards her fellow employees and resentful towards her employers. And at all times, it's obvious that she can't understand what it really feels like to have to live on what she's making. She knew she would never have to. Her attitude towards her co-workers is perhaps understandable. What seems most inconsistent to me is her opinion towards ALL of her bosses. I was especially disappointed in her description of one of her managers at Wal-Mart. She introduced her boss, Ellie by saying "I like Ellie", but then went on to scornfully describe her style as "the apotheosis of 'servant leadership'...the vaunted 'feminine' style of management.
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334 of 383 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
I don't think someone from a privileged upbringing like Mrs. Ehrenreich could possibly understand what it feels like to live the lives of those she profiled in this book. While she could step into their shoes for a brief few days, she knew she had a lavish book contract she was doing it for, she knew she had an education and a world of options available to her. She would never be able to experience something more intense: knowing she would have no safety nets, no help, no future, and a past she feared to reminisce in.

I found her condescension offensive at times. At one point, she referred to TGI Friday's in a scoffing manner, as part of an example of things the poor like; in reality most struggling people could not afford TGI Friday's, that seems to be a middle class establishment. I remember that in my own life (rife with struggle), I had seen TGI Friday's as a special occasion place, for celebrations like birthdays and holidays. Ehrenreich's attitude sheds light on how limited her understanding and pity is. She sees TGI Friday's like I would see a Burger King.

Her choice to go to a dry cleaners was far removed from the choices most underprivileged people would make. Most would hide a stain or purchase a few new outfits from a thrift store rather than blow money on dry cleaners - I cannot name a single truly poor person that I have known in my life that would even know what a dry cleaners is like and what it costs. When you struggle, you don't have room in your budget for such expenses. Barbara could only make room because she never felt real struggle.

Her food choices were also illustrative of a life of privilege. I made do with oatmeal and Ramen when I struggled, budgeting 5-10 dollars a week for food.
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164 of 188 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What a shame. May 14, 2006
Format:Hardcover
Barbara Ehrenreich seems to have missed the point of her own research. Her proposed plan was to move to a new city with a small amount of capitol, find a minimum wage job and a place to live and try to make ends meet. She was searching for insight into the working poor who represent a large segment of American workers, made larger since welfare reform. She had the opportunity to be their spokesperson, but instead she was too busy complaining about her own discomfort.

For starters, Ms. Ehrenreich doesn't give up her health insurance or car during this entire experiment. In fact, at one job she develops an itchy rash and instead of doing what the working poor who have no health insurance would do - go the the nearest drug store and buy something OTC and hope for the best - she calls her personal out-of-state dermatologist for a prescription so she is itch-free in a matter of days. Barb, honey, that's not how it works for people without health insurance! They work sick, uncomfortable, injured and even itchy. Really.

She also had the advantage of a car, which she used to drive to multiple employers during the first few days of a new job hunt, filling out applications, having interviews and hunting for an apartment. A car is a luxury many working poor don't have, so they are not able to visit 10 or more potential employers on a single day to put in applications and have interviews like she did. The real working poor use public transportation, bicycles or shoe leather. If the job location or housing is more than a mile from a public transportation route, it's off the radar for many people. I wish Barb had tried this at one of her test cities so that she could see how inconvenient, frustrating and limiting public transportation can be.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Low-Wage Nightmare
This book is a must for anyone who either has or knows someone who has a low-wage job. It should, as well, raise the ire in anyone who thinks this is still (or ever was! Read more
Published 22 hours ago by Peter C. Morrison
2.0 out of 5 stars Great title but slow read
This is a very slow read. I feel she takes too long to get to the point. Sadly, I have not finished the book because I have lost interest.
Published 5 days ago by Kiapet
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
good
Published 6 days ago by LIN LI
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good
Published 13 days ago by Donna Cazaubon
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a really great book. I do have political differences with the...
This is a really great book. I do have political differences with the author, but she presents a fascinating view of what is reality for so many people.
Published 28 days ago by Alyssa Parker
4.0 out of 5 stars a good read, but leaves you thinking "that's it"?
very good book, it provides an eye opening insight into the lives of the American working poor. It provides a snapshot of how difficult it can be for persons working in retail or... Read more
Published 29 days ago by Aaron Pennington
1.0 out of 5 stars Hypothesis, faulty experiments, self-fulfiilling prophecy
This was a poorly executed good idea. Among other inconsistencies, the author set herself up for failure by:
-refused to get a roommate and stayed at a hotel instead of, say,... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Chris
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a horrible book about her playing poor. Insulting to those who grew up poor.
Published 1 month ago by Isabel
3.0 out of 5 stars great read
Great read, read it in AP lang. It really was as interesting as one would think. She does tstay primarily true to her objective and thus I appreciate the book.
Published 1 month ago by sky
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
GOOD
Published 1 month ago by Tun Tun Khoo
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More About the Author

BARBARA EHRENREICH is the author of fourteen books, including the bestselling Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. She lives in Virginia, USA.

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