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Showing 1-10 of 553 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 1,840 reviews
on November 9, 2015
I got this book on the advice of my pastor after I lost my newspaper job. I have a part-time job cleaning offices and couldn't believe how physically hard and mentally challenging it is, and he recommended Ehrenreich's story. All I can say is she's right on. People who criticize her method are missing the larger point; Ehrenreich shows how hard it is to make it -- let alone get ahead -- on low wages. This should be the wake-up call for people who think a job, any job, is the answer to getting out of poverty or financial insecurity. This is the only job I have while I await word on my unemployment compensation; my cleaning coworkers don't have this luxury. Most of them work at least two jobs and some work three or more. The age range is 40-late 60s. Ehrenreich hit the nail on the head in seeing how unfair this system is and how it works against low-wage workers and, may I add, this is 10-15 years after she wrote this book. I believe with my education and background, I will find a new higher-paying job eventually. But maybe I won't, and this will be life from here on. In these circumstances, that's scary.
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on November 19, 2014
What an eye opener! Very well written, with the verbiage of someone who's "been there" to expose what the blue collar worker has to deal with every day. (I know my sentence structure is sketchy in itself). This expose has truly defined what the "should be" middle class, hard working, dedicated employee's struggle is to make a living. I will never again look at an employee at Walmart or server at X chain restaurant the same way again. That person could be me, you or anyone with a college degree that hasn't a chance to achieve the so-called American Dream. Unfortunately, our society has turned into that symptomatic class structure that prevailed in the old world of fiefdom. I have no answers. Neither does Barbara, but she has done a service to write this book to expose the real issues present in this twenty first century. I recommend this book to anyone who wants a better view of what's really going on in America. We can't fix the world, but it would be nice to fix, somehow, the state of our current tragedy in America. I don't think Corporate America is willing at this point, but maybe Unions to transform our current system of employee abuse could be transforming. Thank you, Barbara for the excellent book.
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on August 16, 2015
As someone who has always made his own way in the world after being born into the bottom eco-social class in the US this book struck a cord. From age eleven to eighteen I had ever low-paying job imaginable. After serving my country for three years I made a pact with myself. 'Find a union job within a specific time-frame or re-enlist in the US Army.' I would not end up on taxpayer handouts bowing and scrapping to the "elite". Fortunately for me I found a union job. While not wealthy, I was able to send my three children to college and support my wife. We now live comfortably in retirement.
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on July 20, 2014
I'd like to start out by saying I did like and appreciate this book. That being said I had problems with it. This could be that reading this book in 2014 we actually are in a recession, or as I constantly hear on the news "emerging" from a recession. Having worked in many a low income job myself, I did find myself a bit annoyed with the with the writer at times. One thing that I disliked was that she only seemed to spend a short time working the said jobs she had. I understand that she was trying to get a feel for the general country, but I think had she spent say a year in only one job this book could have lived up to something like The Jungle. I disliked how she seemed to think that after a short period in a job that the regular workers would have been ready to rebel. I also didn't like her wonderment that workers would not have set up a union. I don't think she was able to grasp the fear that permeates the low income workers or by that matter most middle income workers. Large and small corporations have made it into a businesses to prevent any grouping of workers like a union. Also her belief that she never met a lazy worker or which she doesn't encounter a snitch. If she'd spent a year in one of these jobs she would have come across it. There's a reason people are afraid to stand up, one of those being that people are constantly afraid of being sold out. I did not like how every time her dislike of the workplace ended with her leaving and finding a new job. Most of us don't have that luxury. We're stuck by geographical and money restraints. For most people especially in this job market the refrain becomes at least u have a job. It doesn't matter how s*** said job is. The only way to bring us out of this fear is for government to it's job and actually care about the majority, and yes we are a majority. Even as a college grad with a decent job that tends to on the best day give me anxiety problems and on the worst leave me feeling for hours at a time that I'm gong to vomit. And by decent messing that I can afford most of my bills even though more than half my income goes into paying student loans. Given that all my years of school and working my way through dead end jobs to pay for it,I now spend half my earnings to pay for said"good"job that I have. Spend a year in factory or a warehouse and you'll quickly understand the problems I had with this book. That being said it might be a good way to raise awareness for the type of person who's never actually had to.
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on April 11, 2012
I thought it would be interesting to read how the working poor get manage in our society. The author did give a good accounting of many of the hardships the working poor face. But, this was a very hard book to get through. The author seemed to have a derogatory attitude about just about everyone with whom she was in contact. She assumes poor people are illiterate and stupid. Managers are sadistic. She describes wal-mart customers as obscenely fat. Christians are miserly and cruel. People who hired maids are paranoid and elitist. She seems to think people go to stores to create unnecessary work for her and her co-workers. It never seems to occur to her that anyone has a valid reason for needing the services she is providing in any of her jobs.
Another aspect of this author's delivery was her ever present feeling that she was about to be found out because she is just too smart. She was always convinced of being the smartest person in the room if not the city in which she resided. She fancied herself an undercover academic blending in with the sweaty masses of uncultured, boorish slobs of society. But, here is the funny part, whenever she finished a stint as a waitress, or a maid, or a wal-mart worker and came out to her co-workers, no one was particularly surprised or impressed. Her confessions were met with mild amusement. She is a legend and a maverick in her own mind.
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on June 21, 2016
This book was extremely well written (by this prolific author), and provoked a lot of thought questions. In terms of masterful use of English, think of books like Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl: A Novel or The Nanny Diaries: A Novel. Even for all the skillful writing: It's too bad that it didn't really have that much to say.

There are several issues that she addresses, and it makes me wonder if she had picked up a few books on Economics, might she have realized that she didn't have a case (and that this book would not have been written):

1. Affordable housing: When she gets to Minneapolis, she talks about the shortage of "affordable housing." To me, the logical question is: If there is a short supply, what is stopping the builders from making new properties? In California, 90% of the land is off limits to developers. She mentions housing (in California, no less!) on p. 231, and the onerous building restrictions zoom right by her as a causal factor.

2. Wage levels.

a. You can either control price or supply. But not both. (That is the reason that price controls have never worked over the last several thousand years.) The author talks about what the wages are for these various jobs (and remember that this was way back in the late 90s/ early aughts that this book was written and researched). But the fact that bosses could find workers to work at these wages means that there were enough people for them to choose from to get workers at those wages. Why should they pay nearly twice as much as they needed to when they could get the same thing for under $10 per hour? If the wage went up, does it mean that people would need as much of that labor?
b. Does bringing 1 million people per year into the country really help the pricing power of workers?

3. Gaussian distribution. (And the author should know better, since she did get a Ph.D. in Biology.) For ever person who has an IQ of 130 and can take a PhD in Biology, then there has to be someone at 70 in order to maintain the 100 average. She worked with people who were (in whatever way) not as capable as some. Could this have been any other way?

4. History. It has been thought time and time again that some government somewhere can just "do something" and just "make it so that there are no poor people." Cuba was about 4 decades before the time of this book. The Chinese change under Deng Xiaoping was 2 decades before this book. Has there ever been any country anywhere that just passed a law and made everyone equal and rich?

5. Unions.

a. She says that, at a minimum, people should be able to join unions. (p. 237) But it happens all the time that people vote not to. (Volkswagen in Tennessee. Delta/ Northwest Airlines in Detroit.) And it has also happened very recently (right in the area where I live, Detroit Metro) that unions got so belligerent with their wage demands that the Auto Companies had to go into bankruptcy and they ended up costing taxpayers a lot of money (most of whom are not unionized), and the workers ended up having to give back a lot of what they got. (Union forklift drivers around here at an auto plant are about $11/hour at the time of this writing and people on the floor get paid about $14-15 per hour. Defined benefit pensions are a thing of the past.)

b. The author does appear to show concern about black and Hispanic people working. With heavier unionization, there will be a lot fewer of them working. (I deliver to union plants all the time, and they are a lot whiter than the surroundings.)

Another question that I had was: Does this righteous indignation really represent the position of the workers that she wrote about? (It has been observed that "People who toil from sunup to sundown for the barest of subsistence nurse no grievances and dream no dreams"--Eric Hoffer.) I have worked as a cashier where my customers worked on loading docks (black) or did roofing work (Mexican) and at the end of the day they just wanted to get a beer and sit down somewhere. If this author hijacked the life experiences of people (who really don't see that much angst because of their living circumstances), is this *yet another* person using someone else as a Vanity project?

6. Drug testing. (p. 208). She goes on about this being an invasion of privacy, but (legal arguments aside), doesn't this work out better on behalf of the workers? At least it cuts down the supply of competitors for these low wage jobs. (I drive a rig, and I thank the Zephyr in the Sky that so many people can't pass that test. It does give me at least SOME choice with respect to jobs.)

7. Catch words. "Privilege"/"Dignity"/"Underpaid"/"Social wage." (That last one if the best of them all, since the word "social" is one of those weasel words/ adjectives that drains all the meaning out of whatever noun it modifies.) All of these words sound find if you don't stop and think about them. And I think that the author is hoping that we don't stop and think about them.
Was this book really that even handed, with endorsements by rags such as The Nation, Salon and the psychotic she-of-The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein?

The author even says as much in the conclusion, when she imagines that workers are going to spontaneously rise up after they get tired of not being "paid what they're worth."

Verdict: Recommended, but only because of the beauty of the prose, only at the price fo $0.01 (plus shipping) and ONLY if you are willing to devote an afternoon's worth of reading time. (This book is about 4-5 hours worth of reading.)
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on May 17, 2014
After reading some reviews I was not sure how I would feel about this book (which I read for school). However, I thought she nails the issue of low wages and the plight of those trying to live with those earnings. What I didn't like is the way she attacked anyone who was a supervisor or manager. How could she possibly understand their job when she worked at the various places only for a very short time, only a month. Another aspect of the book which I felt was not necessary was the racist remarks......

I believe this book was needed to bring this issue into the public eye and I'm for one glad she wrote it, even though I don't really consider her as having really lived like those she wrote about. Her experiences were fake, she knew she had money to fall back on, she never really had to "worry" as so many do. She even called a doctor and basically demanded a prescription for a rash...... Something no working poor could have done. They would have suffered until they could no longer take it, then they would have seen a doctor....which they probably would have lost time from work and money. The trickle down affect their housing, food, etc.

The generosity and compassion she received from those she worked alongside, even the very short time they knew her, was a testament about the goodness of people.
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on February 23, 2016
On the one hand this work is as ground breaking as it is bleak. On the other hand it feels a bit artificial, that is, the situations she puts herself in. However, I don't see how she could have avoided that.
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on May 23, 2007
Although Barbara Ehrenreich is a long-time socialist, conservatives and libertarians should not dismiss NICKLE & DIMED as a leftist propaganda piece - it's not. Instead, the book examines some of the genuine shortcomings and problems of our current economic system. Although many of the working poor encountered in this book have found themselves on hard times due to the cascading effect of a couple of poor choices, most are trapped in a cycle of poverty from which there is no legitimate escape. For example, many of the working poor rent hotel rooms for $40 a day, and spend $20 a day on fast food meals. This leaves them with virtually no money left over. Is this really a choice? If they have no car to sleep in, no money for a security deposit, then where else can they live but a hotel? And if they have no stove or even a microwave, what else are they to do but eat fast food? There is no easy way out. For the most part, I firmly believe that you can be anything you want to be in this country, but that doesn't change the realities that these people face. My solutions to the inequality (better education, access to microcredit) would be different from those of Dr. Ehrenreich, but that's not what this book is about. This book is about profiling the real-life struggles of the working poor, and it does so in an emotionally gripping manner. The book is not anticapitalist, and it does acknowledge the poor choices made by some of these people, but mostly, they are stuck, and it is something that every believer in free-market capitalism should consider.
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on August 6, 2002
I read this book in almost one sitting. I worked my way through college doing many of the same jobs as "Barb" but I always knew it was just a way to get by and me eye was on the bigger goal of getting out of school. Her look at these jobs from a more mature vantage point gave me a real cause to pause and think. The mark of a good book is the way ideas and thoughts keep coming back to you in odd moments and they are directly related to what you just took in from the author. I found myself discussing the book with my lunch buddies, my husband and even my boss. The gentle way she presented the problems faced by the working poor didn't preach, just teach.
I found myself in a national chain variety store buying cat treats yesterday and I almost put them back thinking that the lady ringing me out would look at this as a waste of money as she probably is making due on a small budget. Being a childless women in a world that makes kids the golden calf I fully understood the comments of her co-workers while they cleaned for or served a meal to the "client". Longing can come from any everyday situation, a running shoe display as seen from the low angel of a wheel chair, a cart full of kids back to school supplies passing a lady who's childless, or a holiday spent in an empty house. But this book brings us back to the all too often hidden longings of thousands of people for simple things like a safe place to live, a hot dinner, and a chance to rest a sore back. I'll keep this book to read again and again. I'll also go from tipping 15% to 20% and be even nicer to the folks that stand behind counters. I never had a maid, for many of the same reasons bought out in the book, but if I ever need household help I will not be the boss, just the very thankful person being helped.
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