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Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, Ehrenreich worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. 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 intend to live indoors.
Nickel and Dimed reveals low-wage 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 -- 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.
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.
"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)
—Diana Henriques, The New York Times [Business Section]
"Jarring, full of riveting grit . . . This book is already unforgettable."
—Susannah Meadows, Newsweek
"Angry, amusing . . . An in-your-face expose."
—Anne Colamosca, Business Week
"With grace and wit, Ehrenreich discovers . . . the irony of being nickel and dimed during unprecedented prosperity."
—Eileen Boris, The Boston Globe
"Ehrenreich is a superb and relaxed stylist [with] a tremendous sense of rueful humor."
—Stephen Metcalf, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Barbara Ehrenreich . . . is our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism."
—Dorothy Gallagher, The New York Times Book
|Introduction: Getting Ready||1|
|1||Serving in Florida||11|
|2||Scrubbing in Maine||51|
|3||Selling in Minnesota||121|
To the Teacher
Millions of Americans work full-time for poverty-level wages. Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. Nickel and Dimed is the revealing, compelling, and widely acclaimed result of that decision—a book that has already become a masterpiece of undercover reportage, and a portrait-of-the-working-poor classic that is showing up in classrooms throughout the nation.
How does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour? To ﬁnd out, Ehrenreich takes low-wage jobs in Florida, then in Maine, and ﬁnally in Minnesota, working as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing home aide, and a Wal-Mart salesperson. She lives in trailer parks and crumbling motels; she eats fast or cheap food, since she can’t afford a stove, refrigerator, or cookware. She also learns that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you plan to live indoors. And healthcare is a luxury she cannot afford.
This is that rare book that reveals a harsh reality without resorting to sentiment, that speaks the plain truth without being preachy or complex. Nickel and Dimed is an absolute must for anyone who wants to see what “prosperity” looks like from the bottom, or who suspects that the “American dream” is becoming a fantasy.