Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

( 316 )


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, ...

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Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

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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.

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

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
To understand life beyond boom-time America, Barbara Ehrenreich spent months laboring as a cleaning woman; as a waitress; and as a Wal-Mart sales clerk. Her revelations about these hard, supposedly "unskilled" jobs and the difficulty of making ends meet in the U.S. gives this book a powerful, personal edge.
From the Publisher
“Captivating . . . promise that you will read this explosive little book cover to cover and pass it on to all your friends and relatives.” —The New York Times

“Impassioned, fascinating, profoundly significant, and wildly entertaining . . . Nickel and Dimed is not only important but transformative in its insistence that we take a long hard look at the society we live in.” Francise Prose, O, The Oprah Magazine

“Valuable and illuminating . . . Barbara Ehrenreich is our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Jarring . . . fully of riveting grit . . . this book is already unforgettable.” —The New York Times

“Reading Ehrenreich is good for the soul.” —Molly Ivins

“Ehrenreich is passionate, public, hotly lucid, and politically engaged.” —Chicago Tribune

“Ehrenreich's scorn withers, her humor stings, and her radical light shines on.” —The Boston Globe

“One of today's most original writers.” —The New York Times

“Barbara Ehrenreich is smart, provocative, funny, and sane in a world that needs more of all four.” —Diane Sawyer

New York Times
One of today's most original writers.
Chicago Tribune
Ehrenreich is passionate, public, hotly lucid, and politically engaged.
Boston Globe
Ehrenreich's scorn withers, her humor stings, and her radical light shines on.
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) 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.

Vivien Labaton
Nickel and Dimed is an important book that should be read by anyone who has been lulled into middle-class complacency.
Ms. Magazine
Dorothy Gallagher
We have Barbara Ehrenreich to thank for bringing us the news of America's working poor so clearly and directly, and conveying with it a deep moral outrage and a finely textured sense of lives as lived. As Michael Harrington was, she is now our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism.
New York Times Book Review
Dorothy Gallagher
"Barbara Ehrenreich . . . is our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism."
—Dorothy Gallagher, The New York Times Book
Eileen Boris
"With grace and wit, Ehrenreich discovers . . . the irony of being nickel and dimed during unprecedented prosperity."
—Eileen Boris, The Boston Globe
Stephen Metcalf
"Ehrenreich is a superb and relaxed stylist {with} a tremendous sense of rueful humor."
—Stephen Metcalf, Los Angeles Times Book Review
Diana Henriques
". . . you will read this explosive little book cover to cover and pass it on to all your friends and relatives."
—Diana Henriques, The New York Times
Anne Colamosca
"Angry, amusing . . . An in-your-face expose."
—Anne Colamosca, Business Week
Susannah Meadows
"Jarring, full of riveting grit . . . This book is already unforgettable."
—Susannah Meadows, Newsweek
Library Journal
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.
School Library Journal
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312626686
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 8/2/2011
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 867
  • Product dimensions: 8.04 (w) x 5.62 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of Nickel and Dimed, Blood Rites, The Worst Years of Our Lives (a New York Times bestseller), Fear of Falling, which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and eight other books. A frequent contributor to Time, Harper's, Esquire, The New Republic, Mirabella, The Nation, and The New York Times Magazine, she lives near Key West, Florida.

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Read an Excerpt

It is hotter inside than out, but I do all right until I encounter the banks of glass doors. Each one has to be Windexed, wiped, and buffed-inside and out, top to bottom, left to right, until it's as streakless and invisible as a material substance can be. Outside, I can see construction guys knocking back Gatorade, but the rule is that no fluid or food item can touch a maid's lips when she's inside a house. I sweat without replacement or pause, not in individual drops but in continuous sheets of fluid, soaking through my polo shirt, pouring down the backs of my legs. Working my way through the living room(s), I wonder if Mrs. W. will ever have occasion to realize that every single doodad and object through which she expresses her unique, individual self is, from the vantage point of a maid, only an obstacle on the road to a glass of water.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Getting Ready 1
1 Serving in Florida 11
2 Scrubbing in Maine 51
3 Selling in Minnesota 121
Evaluation 193
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Reading Group Guide


1. Near the outset, Ehrenreich (speaking of her own sister) employs the term "wage slave." What does she mean by this?

2. What are the three rules the author sets for herself at the beginning of Nickel and Dimed? Does she ever break them? If so, when and why, in your view, does she do so?

3. Early on, the author tells us that she has a Ph.D. in biology. How, if at all, does this ?gure into the narrative? What does Ehrenreich's scienti?c training bring to the "old-fashioned journalism" of this book?

4. Why does Ehrenreich assert in her Introduction that "a story about waiting for buses would not be very interesting to read"? What are the context and rationale for this remark? And given as much, do you agree?

5. Early in Chapter One, Ehrenreich notes that, in terms of low-wage work, "the want ads are not a reliable measure of the actual jobs available at any particular time." Explain why this is so.

6. At one point, Ehrenreich details the living conditions of her fellow workers at the Hearthside. Reviewing these arrangements, explain how each set-up compares with the author's own "$500 ef?ciency" quarters.

7. Waiting tables at Jerry's, the author meets a young dishwasher named George. Who is he? What is his story? Why do he and Ehrenreich befriend one another? And why does she not "intervene" when she learns from an assistant manager that George is thought to be a thief?

8. On her ?rst--and last--day of housekeeping in Key West, Ehrenreich is met by a manager who addresses her as "babe" and gives her "a pamphlet emphasizing the need for a positive attitude." When and where else, throughout the book, does the author encounter cheap talk or hollow slogans in her endeavors as a low-wage worker? What purposes might such empty language serve? Why is it so prevalent?

9. In an extended footnote in Chapter Two, Ehrenreich explains how "the point" of the housecleaning service where she is employed "is not so much to clean as to create the appearance of having been cleaned." Why is this? Why the deceit? Why does The Maids out?t not clean its clients' homes properly?

10. "The hands-and-knees approach is a de?nite selling point for corporate cleaning services like The Maids," the author writes. Explain why this "oldfashioned way" of housecleaning is thus appealing. Why does it seem to, as Ehrenreich puts it, "gratify the consumers of maid services"?

11. Buying groceries with a voucher at a Shop-n-Save in Maine, Ehrenreich notes of the checkout woman ringing up her purchases: "I attempt to thank her, but she was looking the other way at nothing in particular." What might such body language mean? Why, if at all, is it telling?

12. Looking back on Chapter Two as a whole, what connections would you make between maids and minorities in the United States? What about between maids and poverty, and maids and "invisibility"? Refer to the text itself when making your links.

13. Who is Budgie? Why does Ehrenreich tell us to let Budgie "be a stand-in"? Also, would it be accurate to say that the author's efforts to ?nd a safe and affordable place to live were least successful in Minnesota? Explain why or why not.

14. Paraphrase the brief "story within a story" represented by the character called Caroline. What is Caroline's tale? Why does Ehrenreich get in touch with this person, and what does she learn from her?

15. As her stint at Wal-Mart winds down, the author mentions to several of her colleagues that they "could use a union here"--only, as she herself readily admits, she is "not a union organizer anymore than [she is] Wal-Mart 'management material.'" So why, then, is she making efforts at unionizing? What has led her to these efforts? What are her reasons, grievances, motivations, and goals?

16. At the outset of her Evaluation chapter, the author seems to arrive at a new understanding of the phrase "unskilled labor." Explain this new understanding. Do you agree with it? Why or why not?

17. Describe the problems that Ehrenreich has with how the "poverty level" is calculated in this country. Is she correct on this score, in your view? Explain. Also, how does one's understanding of the poverty level--Ehrenreich's or anyone else's-- relate to food costs, and to the author's assertion that our "wages are too low and rents too high."

18. What is the "money taboo"--and why and how does it function, as Ehrenreich puts it, "most effectively among the lowest-paid people"?

19. Why does Ehrenreich refer to low-wage workers, at the close of her book, as "the major philanthropists of our society"?


1. In the Introduction to Nickel and Dimed, the author writes: "Unlike many lowwage workers, I have the further advantages of being white and a native English speaker." As a class, explore whether, why, and how these two facets of Ehrenreich's identity were, in fact, advantageous over the full duration of her study.

2. Near the beginning of this book, Ehrenreich compares the restaurant-tipping habits of Americans and Europeans. Near the end, she notes that, while "most civilized nations compensate for inadequacy of wages by providing relatively generous public services," the U.S. "leaves its citizens to fend for themselves." What, in Ehrenreich's view, could America learn from other countries about how to better treat its low-wage workers?

3. The action of Nickel and Dimed unfolds in three American communities, as found in three different states: Florida, Maine, and Minnesota. What about your own community? How would Nickel and Dimed be different--or similar--if it included the area you call home? On your own, or as part of a group, do some research--via newspapers and magazines, TV news broadcasts, and the Internet-- in order to formulate your answer.

4. Ehrenreich often speaks of dietary matters, of nutrition, of food as fuel. Why does she keep doing so? What did reading this book tell you about how we eat and how we work in America? And what about the correlations that may or may not exist between low-wage American workers and their use of cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol?

5. In her chapter "Selling in Minnesota," Ehrenreich asserts: "Wherever you look, there is no alternative to the megascale corporate order, from which every form of local creativity and initiative has been abolished by distant home of?ces." Talk about whether this is true in your own experience. If not, why not? If so, where and when have you seen evidence to support this claim? Try to use your own examples and impressions here--not Ehrenreich's.

6. Describing the food at a Florida restaurant where she works, Ehrenreich calls it "your basic Ohio cuisine with a tropical twist." Later, wondering what living in Maine might be like, she says, "Maybe . . . when you give white people a whole state to themselves, they treat one another real nice." Still later, she writes that certain clothes on sale at her Minnesota Wal-Mart are "seemingly aimed at pudgy fourthgrade teachers with important barbecues to attend." Discuss the biting humor-- the sharp and sometimes even mocking wit--appearing throughout this book. How, if at all, does such levity make Ehrenreich's arguments more effective? And were there instances where you thought her wisecracks went too far--or fell ?at? Explain.

7. "Let's look at the record," writes Ehrenreich in her Evaluation. What does this record tell us? Where was she most successful in her experiment, and where was she least? Do you agree with the author when she says, after going over her record, "All right, I made mistakes"? Explain why or why not. What could she have done differently, and what would you--in her shoes--have done differently? Explain.

8. Throughout Nickel and Dimedthe author makes complaints about "management." Summarize the many problems that Ehrenreich has with managers, looking especially at the book's Wal-Mart passages and the breakdown of "workplace authoritarianism" in the Evaluation chapter.

9. Explain why Ehrenreich believes that personality surveys and drug tests are both categorically unfair to low-wage workers. Look back over the full range of her low-wage experiences when crafting your answer.

10. More than once in these pages, we encounter the severe bodily and psychological harm that hard work at low pay can cause--the physical damage as well as the threats of what Ehrenreich calls, after an especially trying shift at her nursing home job, "repetitive injury of the spirit." Prepare a short report on the health risks of lowwage work, based on Ehrenreich's study and on your own ?ndings in various media reports.

11. One of the strengths of this book must be its cast of characters--the real people who live and work in the real world Ehrenreich is reporting on, those workers with whom she toils, relates, confers, cries, argues, and so on. In a short essay, identify and discuss a certain individual (or two) from this book by whom you were particularly touched. In your essay, explain your choice(s).

12. A few times in Nickel and Dimed, the author refers to the "Sermon on the Mount," which appears in the biblical book of Matthew. Ehrenreich refers to this sermon not as a religious tract but as a work of a political philosophy, as a treatise on social or economic revolution. What is this sermon about? What does it say or claim? (Do some research, if you are unsure.) Finally, explain why Ehrenreich thinks this sermon now applies to America's low-wage workers in particular.

13. In a way, this book can read as a reaction to--or a hands-on test of--the "welfare reform" legislation enacted in the U.S. in the 1990s. "In the rhetorical buildup to welfare reform," Ehrenreich writes, "it was uniformly assumed that a job was the ticket out of poverty." As a class, conduct a detailed conversation about Nickel and Dimed as a point-by-point examination of this very assumption.

14. This book is, of course, more than a report on, and exposé of, "(not) getting by in America"--it is also a detailed critique. To this end, the bulk of its criticism might well be directed at the Wal-Mart empire. Is this appropriate, in your view? Explain. Given that Wal-Mart is far and away the world's largest company, is it right to expect the retail megachain to be all the more fair and respectful of its employees? Explain.

15. Nickel and Dimed takes place during a so-called economic boom in American history, the period of "peace and prosperity" (as many people called it then, and still call it now) that was the late 1990s. However, the book is largely about poverty, about the poor--and not simply the helplessly destitute, but rather the poor who are employed full-time. Near the outset of her study, Ehrenreich tells us that "there are no secret economies that nourish the poor; on the contrary, there are a host of special costs." Near the end, in sum, she tells us that poverty is an experience of "acute distress"--a nonstop "state of emergency." Finish your exploration of the book by talking about what it taught you on the subject of poverty in America. Not just about what it costs to "get by" but about how people living in poverty make ends meet--how they, in Ehrenreich's language, "[try] to match income to expenses."

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 316 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 316 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2003


    This book was horrible. I can't believe that I gave this person money! The author doesn't bother to really understand what she is writing about. She is consistently surprised that the poor folks around her aren't impressed with her PhD.... and what's sick is that she doesn't get that a PhD shouldn't impress the working poor. Why does she feel that she is so much better than everyone else... why doesn't she bother to find out how the people around her are actually making it work? How in Gods green can she have problems getting by for ONE month when she has a paid for rental car, $1000 going into the experiment and an income, however meager? Why does she feel that eating off you lap is a major plight of the working poor that she has to write about it? Has she never been to a picnic? The idea was fabulous... it's too bad she ruined it. Lastly, no real suggestions to solve the problem? Raise minimum wage? Doesn't she realize that the cost for product will rise too... and still a worker at Wal-Mart won't be able to afford to shop there? All I got from this book was that a spoiled child couldn't figure out how to live on less. Bummer for her. Fortunately most people on the planet are a little more crafty and intelligent. Finally, we as Americans only need to look to other countries to understand what poor really is.

    31 out of 47 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2011

    Prejudiced, Racist, Class-based writer

    Please do not waste your time reading this. This is the worst book I have ever read. She is a racist and makes class based remarks that are not warranted. If she or the publisher had proofread the book and taken these unnecessary remarks out, the book might have had value. The way it is written now, is horrible and should be pulled off the shelves. I only started noting quotes about half way through although they litter the entire book.

    "...not to mention my worry that the Latinos might be hogging all the crap jobs and substandard housing for themselves, as they so often do." p. 121

    "Irene had problems, yes. She was both black and Indian, a migrant farmworker, and had been raped by someone and also abused by her boyfriend, who left an ugly scar on her face." p. 133

    "I slide $255 in cash under the glass window that seperates me from the yound East Indian owner-East Indians seem to have a lock on the midwestern motel business-and am taken by his wife to a room..." p.151

    "The town of Clearview presents only two low-priced options to its kitchnless residents-A Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet Kentucky Fried Chicken-each with its own entertainment possibilities. If I eat out at the buffet I can watch the large Mexican families or the even larger, in total body mass terms, families of Minnesota Anglos." p. 159

    "One night I come back bone-tired from my last break and am distressed to find a new person, An Asian American or possibly Hispanic woman who can't be more than four and a half feet tall,..." p. 167

    Really? Were any of these distinguishing remarks actually needed to tell the story? NO, not at all. She just writes naturally that way because she doesn't like anyone but the white race.

    Please DO NOT buy this book!

    26 out of 44 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2010


    I had to read this book in an college English class. This woman has no idea of the stresses of the everyday joe. She acted as if what she was doing isn't done EVERY SINGLE DAY by people all over this country. What really upset me was the fact she spoke of all the wonderful things she had waiting on her at home, if she wasn't able to find and/or keep a job. How many people can say that? Not to mention all the money she is making off writing about being poor! UGH!!!

    21 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2008

    I have never been so sorry to have read a book.

    I do not even wish to waste my energy telling people how belittling this book is to the working classes of America. However, my desire to let as many people know as possible is strong. I am even more shocked to learn that this book is actually recommended reading in some schools. This author has nothing to offer in the way of insight.

    19 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2008

    A thought provoking read indeed

    It would be impossible to comment (honestly) on the text without discussing my opinion of the author as it revolves around her... I mean really now. Who sees any sort of humor at all in this book? I actually find the author's tone to be completely indignant and arrogant, she is ungracious, unkind, even cruel in her tone towards her 'friends' and co-workers while she is playing poor. She even goes so far as to compare her plight to that of a princess being punished by being forced to hand feed all her subjects... this lady is a real piece of work. She is absolutely deplorable and such a snobbish, egotistical (well a not so very nice person)! Her 'insights' and her surprising realizations scare me, I mean if real people actually find shock and awe at the same everyday DUH she makes a big fuss over, then this country is way past salvageable!!! She is a career essayist who lowers herself to play poor for a little while, and tries to maintain a decent quality of life while getting by on minimum wage, something which is definitely not her area of expertise. She describes looking for places to live, jobs, working conditions and overall environments of the places she goes. She alienated, humiliated, and demeaned almost everyone she met, though not in any sort of dialog to their face, just her thoughts about them... This is definitely a must read, but not for the reasons by which I kept being mislead. For people like myself, this is at times hard to read, however it is definitely a book you will not soon forget, and definitely an author you will not soon forget either.

    17 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2002

    Save your hard-earned money

    While the author's experiment is certainly intriguing and even worthwhile, objectivity is quickly clouded by Ehrenreich's opinions on various social issues. During the brief time she works as a maid, she's pretentious enough to criticize the people who own the homes she is cleaning. She implies that these owners, many of whom she has never met, must be mean, selfish people because they actually own something of monetary value and are paying to have it cleaned. The possibility that they may have earned money through hard work to buy their possessions never seems to occur to her. Of course, this might have broken her moment of self-righteousness. Likewise, on page 100, she describes how self-conscious and ostracized she feels about wearing her garish maid's uniform in a supermarket, saying that she's 'getting a tiny glimpse of what it would be like to be black.' In today's society, that is hardly an accurate comparison. If anything, maybe she got a glimpse of how a disfigured or physically handicapped person may feel, but I doubt such people go about their daily routines with the indignant paranoia she displayed. Granted, there are injustices everywhere in America. However, it still remains the best country in the world for individuals to achieve their goals and attain economic comfort. It is up to the idividual to take the initiative for improvement; no one else can do it for them.

    14 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2001

    Wonderful book. I'd give it six stars if I could

    I loved Ehrenreich's original Harper¿s piece that turned into Nickled and Dimed, but the book is even better. In the face of all the glib talk about how easy it is get by on minimal wage jobs whose pay has stagnated for 20 years, Ehrenreich tries to actually do that--to live on the $4.80 or $5.50 an hour jobs that are the sole livelihoods of millions of Americans. She creates a wonderful portrait of a world that to most professional class Americans is absolutely invisible. Ehrenreich tells wonderful stories about all the ways that low-wage jobs grind people down, and about how the people caught in those jobs respond with human dignity and solidarity. in the middle of all the forces that grind people down. She's talking about real and urgent issues, but the book is also terrifically funny, both in documenting the blythe callousness that affluant Americans express toward those who serve them, and in her handling of her own role. The humor helps make this a terrific read, and it makes her core points all the more powerful. I also thought constantly while I was reading this book about the Republican overturning of the ergonomic standards. The jobs she describes routinely destroy people's bodies, because of their pace and because of the conditions people work under. Yet we've now ditched the very standards that would have begun to prevent this. With union contracts, people have some protection against the most destructive situations, without them, like in the jobs she describes, they¿re totally thrown to the wolves. In my dreams, every political and corporate leader would read Nickled and Dimed and heed its lessons, but since that's probably not going to happen, the rest of us better read it and start demanding we actually become a nation of 'liberty and justice for all.' Paul Loeb, author of Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time

    11 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 8, 2011

    Relevant Now More Than Ever

    Please read this book! It is not meant to be an indictment of the working class, racist or any other "-ism". This book illuminates how, in the land of the American Dream, it is possible for the poorest among us to also be the hardest working. It highlights how entrenched aspects of our society and culture make it nearly impossible for hardworking, well-intentioned people to change their financial and socio-economic situation. I'm sure most negative reactions are from those who wrongly assume that the author's criticisms are aimed at the people in the stories rather than seeing it as aimed at those organizations who "pimp" the workers and institutions of this country. Now, as we decide what we will do individually and collectively as a society, we need to understand how the system works for the working poor. Reading this book will help in that understanding.

    10 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent Read for the Right Audience

    Nickel and Dimed On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbra Ehrenreich was and excellent book. I greatly enjoyed the story and information that it held. Throughout the book I learned new and eye opening things. With many non-fiction books the information can be overwhelming. Through Ehrenreich's writing I was able to enjoy the story and gain the knowledge. This book had the perfect balance of story and facts pertaining to what was going on in the story. Her writing style was also liked by the many recommendations I received for this book. I first herd of this book through a reading list. I found the overview interesting so I deiced to ask around whether it was good. I was astounded by the many people who insisted I read it. They would comment on how it was great and very eye opening. With such enthusiasm, how could I resist? I strongly feel that this is a great book and a must read but it is really for the right audience. I have a strong passion for the equality of all and this book gets down to that, equality. Many people are kept down impart by these minimum wage jobs and unable to enjoy the true "American Dream". From housing to just putting food on the table this book showed the struggles a minimum wage worker face. When reading you gain quite allot of knowledge on the struggles they face. I feel you need, to sum degree, an interest in learning about that. Although this is really eye opening and a must read, this book is written for a high level reader. Often, as a ninth grader, I felt lost or unsure of what happened due to the reading level. I must impress that do not let the reading level stop you from reading this book. I would often slow down and reread many of the passages to gain a better understanding. It is a great book and the reward of knowledge gained is greater than the struggle to understand it fully. This book had quite an effect on me. I consider myself a conscientious person but I never knew how hard it is to survive on a minimum wage. When I see the low wage jobs she endured in my own life I hold new appreciation for the work they do. For me, this book truly made me look at m life and to appreciate the comfort I live in. Although I go on about how it made me think this book did not force any concepts or ideas at me. It never gave the feeling that because you in part support these jobs you are a bad person. Ehrenreich of corse wrote her opinions the book more presented the facts, leaving the verdict up to the reader. I highly recommend this to anyone, regardless if it interests you, It is one of those books that was just good and should be read. I encourage you to read Nickel and Dimed On (Not) Getting by in America.

    9 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 23, 2011

    Especially true for the current recession.

    While this book has probably rang true for everyone around the world for thousands of years, it brings in how we need to do something about it with only a clear idea of how everyday people are being treated. This book was very well researched. I will definitely be using this book in my classroom.

    8 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2001

    A wake up call for the America Dream

    Barbara Ehrenreich admits from the get go that her foray into the world of the working poor, chronicled in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, isn't the same as actually living there. She knows the sanctuary of her secure middle-class life awaits, and she can return whenever she wants to. Her experience, therefore, lacks the true desperation of those who have no such means of escape. On the other hand, her knowledge of life outside the barely-above-minimum-wage world of Wal-Mart, of waitressing, of housekeeping and maid service labor, affords her a basis of comparison that the average retail sales associate, waitress, or nursing home aide may never have. With these advantages and disadvantages to accurate reportage, Ehrenreich brings unstinting honesty as the scales and achieves perfect balance. How accurate is her description of life on the down side? I can't speak for waitressing or motel housekeeping, but I spent thirteen months as a Wal-Mart associate and can testify that she nailed it. A perfect 10. From the dehumanization of drug testing and personality surveys, to the propaganda of orientation videos and Sam Walton posters by the break room, through the Wal-Mart cheer, discounts at the Radio Grill, CBLS, and zoning bras, I've been there and done it. I suspect her description of the other 'occupations' she worked at is every bit as accurate, and poignant. That she manages to make some truly horrible situations funny is a tribute not only to her writing, but to the people she worked with. Humor is the one thing they, too, get by on. If you can't laugh at the really bad stuff -- whether it's cleaning other people's toilets or not feeling free to use the toilet at work for fear of being accused of 'time theft' -- you go crazy. Reading Nickel and Dimed, I laughed, and I cried. I saw myself on her pages, but more often I saw the people I left behind when I, too, escaped. The saddest part about Nickel and Dimed is that the people who ought to read it probably won't. The people who think the poor are poor because they don't work (or because they want to be poor, as if anyone really believes that) will never pick up a book like this. It might make them uncomfortable, might make them realize that their comfort is one of the causes. Too many who do buy and read it already know how hard (impossible?) it is to live on $7 a hour, to find affordable decent housing, to assemble nutritious meals, to acquire dependable transportation so they can get to those $7-an-hour jobs on time and not be fired for tardiness. Poverty in the United States is still as invisible as it was when Michael Harrington wrote The Other America in 1962. That book sparked Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. Maybe Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed will spark a more peaceful and more successful assault.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 29, 2010

    A good read...if there is absolutely nothing to do.

    Barbara Ehrenreich proved to have excellent style, great diction, and determination- I will not deny her talent. In the beginning of her book, Nickel and Dimed, she maintained her purpose and tried to pursue it; however, throughout her book, her purpose changed, her expertise proved to be faulty, and the quality of the book wavered from time to time.
    In the beginning of her book, I grasped what her purpose was, but reading deeper into the book changed my perspective. I no longer knew if she was still trying to prove her point about how people living in the United States could not get by in America solely based on minimum wage, or if she was trying to show us how corporate companies treated its workers or just to show us her concern for the poor.
    Ehrenreich's expertise fell at a fast rate since the first time she introduced herself. She described herself as an intelligent person, with a PhD, and a middle class lifestyle; however, nearing the middle of the book, Barbara quits her jobs due to stress and frustration. If some needy person quit his/her job, what would they acquire to buy his/her necessities? She did not stick with the jobs long enough to prove her points/purpose. How can we trust her findings if she did not remain long enough to know if she could survive on minimum wage for her own self? Towards the ending of the book, Barbara shows her concern for drug tests. She is concerned to pee in a cup! Why should she be concerned? She, through implication, tells us that she smoked marijuana. Her incident with the weed serves as a blow to her credibility and reliability. She also shows signs of racism, and is stereotyped, and is biased- three characteristics most readers do not approve of.
    In the evaluation and afterword, she praises herself for her "job well done", "determination", and survival. She talks about the audiences' praise towards her and she stops talking about her supposed purpose in the book. Her new topic is her concern for the poor and her concern to form unions at workplaces and schools.
    Overall, her book was a good read, it just lacked a thorough purpose and consideration towards her audience.

    4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 24, 2012

    highly recommended

    The setting of this book begins in the place at where Ehrenreich lives, Key West, Florida as she decides to start her low-wage life. The plot of this book begins as Ehrenreich is planning her project on how people live in a low- wage life, and the problems that they may come across, like affording a place to live. After leaving her normal life for this project her first task was to find a place to live, since she figured she would probably make around $7 an hour. But once she found a job at Hearthside she found out that her salary was for $2.43 an hour and eventually decided to find another job at Jerry’s in order to live. From there she started moving a couple of more times because she could not find to work with such a low-wage and have enough money for the necessities she may have to come across. In her evaluation she explains how housing is really expensive but, wages have not increased. The main character of this book was Ehrenreich the one who was doing the project to experience a low- wage job. There were also many other characters in which she came across when she was working at different places. The theme of this book is poverty because poverty had a great role in Ehrenreich’s book throughout the book she demonstrates the difficulty of survival with a low-waged job. She shows that there are so many other people that are actually living their lives with so many limitations and, things they have to sacrifice like health insurance that may eventually leave them in debt if anything ever really happened. Nickel and Dimed, 235 pages.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 15, 2011

    She Wasted a Good Premise

    "Nickel and Dimed" touches on some important societal questions, specifically, what is minimum-wage life really like? Many of us had such jobs as teenagers, but we also had family support and few expenses. Even without family obligations or crushing debt, can an adult really survive at $7 per hour?

    The book is well written in general, and Ehrenreich's diary-like style captures events as they occur. However, she has clearly set herself up to fail. Even at age 20, I knew enough to ride the bus and get a roommate if I wanted to make ends meet, and I didn't expect to be perfectly comfortable within one month of moving to a new city. Her on-the-job conduct was quite unprofessional at times; she doesn't need the money, so she does things that a real wage-slave wouldn't dare.

    The book would have benefitted greatly from additional research. Ehrenreich could have spoken with her co-workers to see how they get by, debriefed her minimum-wage bosses and gotten their side of the story, or done some research into labor laws to explain why things are the way they are. Instead, she blames every hurdle on The Corporations, who of course are conspiring to keep the little people down. Ehrenreich's personal tale is interesting, but quite one-sided; I would recommend this book as part of a wider cultural-studies program, so her experience may be augmented and countered by other authors.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2010

    Check out library

    this book was very interesting to me because I didn't know how low wage workers actually go through. This opens my eyes out a lot and makes me wonder that there are certain people out there that need money and are trying to find a way to survive and support themselves. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to lear what low wage people go through.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2004

    not recommended if you are from a lower income class

    The concept of the book seemed good, but the narration of the book ruined it for me. While reading this book, I couldn't help but feel that the author was completely ignorant on the idea of living off of a low wage job. She seemed to be completely prejudiced. To those who do happen to read this book: NOT EVERYONE LIVES THIS WAY.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2004

    It gets old listening to Barbara compare her 'real' life with the lives of the people she meets in writing her book

    I think the purpose of her book is good. There should be awareness of people trying to live off minimum wage paying jobs. But we don't need to hear how wonderful Barbara is and how living a 'working class' life is not 'her life.' Get over yourself Barbara.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2003

    Great Potential....Author's Bias taints target

    There is no way that anyone, much less a sheltered liberal author from Key West, can 'sample' and report on the life of the working the author can be excused for trying to report what she cannot possibly experience in realistic way. The above said, Ms. Ehrenreich is VERY successful at creating some of the most stupid and offensive passages that I have read in a long time: (1) When writing of her experience working as a maid for a commercial maid service, she writes 'So ours is a world of pain...Do the owners (of the houses that we clean) have any idea of the misery that goes into rendering their homes motel-perfect? Would they be bothered if they did know, or would they take a sadistic pride in what they have purchased -- boasting to dinner guests, for example that their follors are cleaned only with the purest of fresh human tears?'....or my favorite...(2) During her description of the lack of respect that she receives when she appears in public in her professional maid garb, she writes '...the brilliant green-and-yellow uniform that gives me away, like prison clothes on a fugitive. Maybe, it occurs to me, I'm getting a tiny glimpse of what it would be like to be black.' The NYT should be ashamed to recommend this book. The author's bias stains her topic and reduces an interesting and timely subject into a whiney, highbrow sham.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2002

    Time NOT well spent

    This book will be read primarily by unambitious people who feel sorry for themselves and would be better off reading a book on some technical or managerial subject. The author points out a couple of examples of people who may have had the opportunity to advance, but did not do it. The book is ended with (almost) the same statement as the Communist Manifesto: 'Workers of the world unite!' The author is only attempting to instill her political agenda through this 'research.' I gave it two stars because the subject matter itself was interesting, not because the book is any good. Do yourself a favor and read something that you will learn something from. Don't bother feeling guilty from your own achievements.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2002

    Not Exactly True To Reality

    I was required to read this book for college. As I will be attending an all-womens college, this book focused mostly on WOMEN not getting by in America. I had disagreed with Ehrenreich many times in the book, particularly when she mentioned that working hard may bring the low-wage workers deeper into poverty (pg 220). Hadn't these workers received a proper education just like upper middle class workers? Maybe the low-wage workers should've 'worked hard' in school. Unlike low-wage workers, I challenge myself with education. Although I pity the conditions of low-wage wokers, I can't say that I feel guilty for helping those conditions--which, like millions of Americans, I had not known I had done until I read this book--because I don't feel guilty for how hard I work in school or for what I have achieved. I also wasn't satisfied with the novel b/c the author didn't enter her personal life. As a low-wage worker, did she meet any friends along the way? Or do low-wage workers stay away from friends? What about family? Did she keep in touch with her family when she was a low-wage worker? Ehrenreich didn't touch the social life of being a low-wage worker, which left me with some unanswered questions. This book, although insightful and sometimes humorous, doesn't deserve 5 stars!

    2 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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