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

3.6 124
by Barbara Ehrenreich
     
 

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The bestselling, landmark work of undercover reportage, now updated Acclaimed 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

Overview

The bestselling, landmark work of undercover reportage, now updated Acclaimed 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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
". . . 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 [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

"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

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.
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
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.

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
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.
New York Times
One of today's most original writers.
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
Susannah Meadows
"Jarring, full of riveting grit . . . This book is already unforgettable."
—Susannah Meadows, Newsweek
Anne Colamosca
"Angry, amusing . . . An in-your-face expose."
—Anne Colamosca, Business Week
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
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780805088380
Publisher:
Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
06/24/2008
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
244
Product dimensions:
5.34(w) x 7.84(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction: Getting Ready

The idea that led to this book arose in comparatively sumptuous circumstances. Lewis Lapham, the editor of Harper’s, had taken me out for a $30 lunch at some understated French country-style place to discuss future articles I might write for his magazine. I had the salmon and field greens, I think, and was pitching him some ideas having to do with pop culture when the conversation drifted to one of my more familiar themes—poverty. How does anyone live on the wages available to the unskilled? How, in particular, we wondered, were the roughly four million women about to be booted into the labor market by welfare reform going to make it on $6 or $7 an hour? Then I said something that I have since had many opportunities to regret: "Someone ought to do the old-fashioned kind of journalism—you know, go out there and try it for themselves. " I meant someone much younger than myself, some hungry neophyte journalist with time on her hands. But Lapham got this crazy-looking half smile on his face and ended life as I knew it, for long stretches at least, with the single word "You. "

The last time anyone had urged me to forsake my normal life for a run-of-the-mill low-paid job had been in the seventies, when dozens, perhaps hundreds, of sixties radicals started going into the factories to "proletarianize" themselves and organize the working class in the process. Not this girl. I felt sorry for the parents who had paid college tuition for these blue-collar wannabes and sorry, too, for the people they intended to uplift. In my own family, the low-wage way of life had never been many degrees of separation away; it was close enough, in any case, to make me treasure the gloriously autonomous, if not always well-paid, writing life. My sister has been through one low-paid job after another—phone company business rep, factory worker, receptionist—constantly struggling against what she calls "the hopelessness of being a wage slave. " My husband and companion of seventeen years was a $4.50-an-hour warehouse worker when I fell in with him, escaping eventually and with huge relief to become an organizer for the Teamsters. My father had been a copper miner; uncles and grandfathers worked in the mines or for the Union Pacific. So to me, sitting at a desk all day was not only a privilege but a duty: something I owed to all those people in my life, living and dead, who’d had so much more to say than anyone ever got to hear.

Adding to my misgivings, certain family members kept reminding me unhelpfully that I could do this project, after a fashion, without ever leaving my study. I could just pay myself a typical entry-level wage for eight hours a day, charge myself for room and board plus some plausible expenses like gas, and total up the numbers after a month. With the prevailing wages running at $6–$7 an hour in my town and rents at $400 a month or more, the numbers might, it seemed to me, just barely work out all right. But if the question was whether a single mother leaving welfare could survive without government assistance in the form of food stamps, Medicaid, and housing and child care subsidies, the answer was well known before I ever left the comforts of home. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, in 1998—the year I started this project—it took, on average nationwide, an hourly wage of $8.89 to afford a one-bedroom apartment, and the Preamble Center for Public Policy was estimating that the odds against a typical welfare recipient’s landing a job at such a "living wage" were about 97 to 1. Why should I bother to confirm these unpleasant facts? As the time when I could no longer avoid the assignment approached, I began to feel a little like the elderly man I once knew who used a calculator to balance his checkbook and then went back and checked the results by redoing each sum by hand.

In the end, the only way to overcome my hesitation was by thinking of myself as a scientist, which is, in fact, what I was educated to be. I have a Ph.D. in biology, and I didn’t get it by sitting at a desk and fiddling with numbers. In that line of business, you can think all you want, but sooner or later you have to get to the bench and plunge into the everyday chaos of nature, where surprises lurk in the most mundane measurements. Maybe when I got into the project, I would discover some hidden economies in the world of the low-wage worker. After all, if almost 30 percent of the workforce toils for $8 an hour or less, as the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute reported in 1998, they may have found some tricks as yet unknown to me. Maybe I would even be able to detect in myself the bracing psychological effects of getting out of the house, as promised by the wonks who brought us welfare reform. Or, on the other hand, maybe there would be unexpected costs—physical, financial, emotional—to throw off all my calculations. The only way to find out was to get out there and get my hands dirty.

In the spirit of science, I first decided on certain rules and parameters. Rule one, obviously enough, was that I could not, in my search for jobs, fall back on any skills derived from my education or usual work—not that there were a lot of want ads for essayists anyway. Two, I had to take the highest-paying job that was offered me and do my best to hold it; no Marxist rants or sneaking off to read novels in the ladies’ room. Three, I had to take the cheapest accommodations I could find, at least the cheapest that offered an acceptable level of safety and privacy, though my standards in this regard were hazy and, as it turned out, prone to deterioration over time.

I tried to stick to these rules, but in the course of the project, all of them were bent or broken at some time. In Key West, for example, where I began this project in the late spring of 1998, I once promoted myself to an interviewer for a waitressing job by telling her I could greet European tourists with the appropriate Bonjour or Guten Tag, but this was the only case in which I drew on any remnant of my actual education. In Minneapolis, my final destination, where I lived in the early summer of 2000, I broke another rule by failing to take the best-paying job that was offered, and you will have to judge my reasons for doing so yourself. And finally, toward the very end, I did break down and rant—stealthily, though, and never within hearing of management.

There was also the problem of how to present myself to potential employers and, in particular, how to explain my dismal lack of relevant job experience. The truth, or at least a drastically stripped-down version thereof, seemed easiest: I described myself to interviewers as a divorced homemaker reentering the workforce after many years, which is true as far as it goes. Sometimes, though not always, I would throw in a few housecleaning jobs, citing as references former housemates and a friend in Key West whom I have at least helped with after-dinner cleanups now and then. Job application forms also want to know about education, and here I figured the Ph.D. would be no help at all, might even lead employers to suspect that I was an alcoholic washout or worse. So I confined myself to three years of college, listing my real-life alma mater. No one ever questioned my background, as it turned out, and only one employer out of several dozen bothered to check my references. When, on one occasion, an exceptionally chatty interviewer asked about hobbies, I said "writing" and she seemed to find nothing strange about this, although the job she was offering could have been performed perfectly well by an illiterate.

Finally, I set some reassuring limits to whatever tribulations I might have to endure. First, I would always have a car. In Key West I drove my own; in other cities I used Rent-A-Wrecks, which I paid for with a credit card rather than my earnings. Yes, I could have walked more or limited myself to jobs accessible by public transportation. I just figured that a story about waiting for buses would not be very interesting to read. Second, I ruled out homelessness as an option. The idea was to spend a month in each setting and see whether I could find a job and earn, in that time, the money to pay a second month’s rent. If I was paying rent by the week and ran out of money I would simply declare the project at an end; no shelters or sleeping in cars for me. Furthermore, I had no intention of going hungry. If things ever got to the point where the next meal was in question, I promised myself as the time to begin the "experiment" approached, I would dig out my ATM card and cheat.

So this is not a story of some death-defying "undercover" adventure. Almost anyone could do what I did—look for jobs, work those jobs, try to make ends meet. In fact, millions of Americans do it every day, and with a lot less fanfare and dithering.

I AM, OF COURSE, VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE PEOPLE WHO NORMALLY fill America’s least attractive jobs, and in ways that both helped and limited me. Most obviously, I was only visiting a world that others inhabit full-time, often for most of their lives. With all the real-life assets I’ve built up in middle age—bank account, IRA, health insurance, multiroom home—waiting indulgently in the background, there was no way I was going to "experience poverty" or find out how it "really feels" to be a long-term low-wage worker. My aim here was much more straightforward and objective—just to see whether I could match income to expenses, as the truly poor attempt to do every day. Besides, I’ve had enough unchosen encounters with poverty in my lifetime to know it’s not a place you would want to visit for touristic purposes; it just smells too much like fear.

Unlike many low-wage workers, I have the further advantages of being white and a native English speaker. I don’t think this affected my chances of getting a job, given the willingness of employers to hire almost anyone in the tight labor market of 1998 to 2000, but it almost certainly affected the kinds of jobs I was offered. In Key West, I originally sought what I assumed would be a relatively easy job in hotel housekeeping and found myself steered instead into waitressing, no doubt because of my ethnicity and my English skills. As it happened, waitressing didn’t provide much of a financial advantage over housekeeping, at least not in the low-tip off-season when I worked in Key West. But the experience did help determine my choice of other localities in which to live and work. I ruled out places like New York and L.A., for example, where the working class consists mainly of people of color and a white woman with unaccented English seeking entry-level jobs might only look desperate or weird.

I had other advantages—the car, for example—that set me off from many, though hardly all, of my coworkers. Ideally, at least if I were seeking to replicate the experience of a woman entering the workforce from welfare, I would have had a couple of children in tow, but mine are grown and no one was willing to lend me theirs for a monthlong vacation in penury. In addition to being mobile and unencumbered, I am probably in a lot better health than most members of the long-term low-wage workforce. I had everything going for me.

If there were other, subtler things different about me, no one ever pointed them out. Certainly I made no effort to play a role or fit into some imaginative stereotype of low-wage working women. I wore my usual clothes, wherever ordinary clothes were permitted, and my usual hairstyle and makeup. In conversations with coworkers, I talked about my real children, marital status, and relationships; there was no reason to invent a whole new life. I did modify my vocabulary, however, in one respect: at least when I was new at a job and worried about seeming brash or disrespectful, I censored the profanities that are—thanks largely to the Teamster influence—part of my normal speech. Other than that, I joked and teased, offered opinions, speculations, and, incidentally, a great deal of health related advice, exactly as I would do in any other setting.

Several times since completing this project I have been asked by acquaintances whether the people I worked with couldn’t, uh, tell—the supposition being that an educated person is ineradicably different, and in a superior direction, from your workaday drones. I wish I could say that some supervisor or coworker told me even once that I was special in some enviable way—more intelligent, for example, or clearly better educated than most. But this never happened, I suspect because the only thing that really made me "special" was my inexperience. To state the proposition in reverse, low-wage workers are no more homogeneous in personality or ability than people who write for a living, and no less likely to be funny or bright. Anyone in the educated classes who thinks otherwise ought to broaden their circle of friends.

There was always, of course, the difference that only I knew—that I wasn’t working for the money, I was doing research for an article and later a book. I went home every day not to anything resembling a normal domestic life but to a laptop on which I spent an hour or two recording the day’s events—very diligently, I should add, since note taking was seldom an option during the day. This deception, symbolized by the laptop that provided a link to my past and future, bothered me, at least in the case of people I cared about and wanted to know better. (I should mention here that names and identifying details have been altered to preserve the privacy of the people I worked with and encountered in other settings during the course of my research. In most cases, I have also changed the names of the places I worked and their exact locations to further ensure the anonymity of people I met.)

In each setting, toward the end of my stay and after much anxious forethought, I "came out" to a few chosen coworkers. The result was always stunningly anticlimactic, my favorite response being, "Does this mean you’re not going to be back on the evening shift next week? " I’ve wondered a lot about why there wasn’t more astonishment or even indignation, and part of the answer probably lies in people’s notion of "writing. " Years ago, when I married my second husband, he proudly told his uncle, who was a valet parker at the time, that I was a writer. The uncle’s response: "Who isn’t? " Everyone literate "writes, " and some of the low-wage workers I have known or met through this project write journals and poems—even, in one case, a lengthy science fiction novel.

But as I realized very late in this project, it may also be that I was exaggerating the extent of the "deception" to myself. There’s no way, for example, to pretend to be a waitress: the food either gets to the table or not. People knew me as a waitress, a cleaning person, a nursing home aide, or a retail clerk not because I acted like one but because that’s what I was, at least for the time I was with them. In every job, in every place I lived, the work absorbed all my energy and much of my intellect. I wasn’t kidding around. Even though I suspected from the start that the mathematics of wages and rents were working against me, I made a mighty effort to succeed.

I make no claims for the relevance of my experiences to anyone else’s, because there is nothing typical about my story. Just bear in mind, when I stumble, that this is in fact the best case scenario: a person with every advantage that ethnicity and education, health and motivation can confer attempting, in a time of exuberant prosperity, to survive in the economy’s lower depths.

Excerpted from Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Copyright © 2001. by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Published in 2008 by Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the publisher.

What People are saying about this

Molly Ivins
Reading Ehrenreich is good for the soul.
Diane Sawyer
Barbara Ehrenreich is smart, provocative, funny, and sane in a world that needs more of all four.

Meet the Author

Barbara Ehrenreich is the bestselling author of Bait and Switch, Bright-sided, This Land Is Their Land, Dancing in the Streets and Blood Rites, among others. A frequent contributor to Harper's and The Nation, she has also been a columnist at The New York Times and Time magazine. She is the winner of the L.A. Times Book Prize for Current Interest and ALA Notable Books for Nonfiction.

 

Ehrenreich was born in Butte, Montana, when it was still a bustling mining town. She studied physics at Reed College, and earned a Ph.D. in cell biology from Rockefeller University. Rather than going into laboratory work, she got involved in activism, and soon devoted herself to writing her innovative journalism. She lives and works in Florida.

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Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 3.6 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 124 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
AdditionalReport More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book hoping to maybe spark some sort of social progression in myself, but I ended up with a bitter taste in my mouth toward the author. When she attempts to make the blanket claim that people cannot live on minimum wage, well as true as that can be, she doesn't give up her luxuries to do so. She still continues to smoke and drink and spend her money on items she does not need. I would say save your money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After reading this book required for a project for my economy class I found that it did provide some useful information about the struggles of finding a job and about some of the obstacles the working poor encounter. I do feel like the author included a lot of negative and unecessary remarks about the people she worked with and I did get the sense that she felt superior to those around her simply because she has a PhD and they do not. In the conclusion of the book, and overall throughout it, she implies that changes should be made, like increasing the minimum wage but comes to no real conclusion. Although the book somewhat depicts the current situtation in regards to the recession and teaches readers about how the working poor are being treated, I feel like the author makes the working class seem hopeless and like they will never be really able to better their lives.
cafereadsblogspotcom More than 1 year ago
This book is well-written account of an undercover journalist's journey into the world of the working poor. At times, the tone is biting and sarcastic. More often, it is sincere and sympathetic as Ehrenreich recounts her experiences working an array of low-paying jobs. The end notes can be daunting and Ehrenreich can be a bit cryptic at times, especially toward the end of the book, but overall I think this book is an important wake-up call to the struggles of America's working poor.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A must read for anyone who wants to thoroughly understand the obstacles in life when one get paid minimum wage. It was a fantastic book that opened my eyes to the harsh realities that people have to go through everyday. Nickel and dimed is a reminder of the very substantial underclass in our society. It's about those who toil long hours at menial jobs to make our lives so very comfortable. They work in our kitchens, clean our offices and bathrooms, wash our cars, mow our lawns, take care of many of our needs. They do it quietly, often unseen, without complaint, and without much reward.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In all honestly I did not like the author of the book. I strongly believe that the book should have been written by someone WITHOUT a college education. I personally thought that it was asinine how a college educated woman was writing a book about America's working class. In the book she mentions how she has a Ph.D., a savings account, IRA, health insurance, and house. Reading this book, I could not get out of mind that she is one of the privileged people in America. Although this book does provide in-depth the struggles that many hard working Americans face every day. Nickel and Dimed would have been more powerful if it was written by an actual working class American. I also hope that Ms. Ehrenreich gives some of the profits from this book to help out those who are in need of financial support.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book is a short 230 pages. It's the longest 230 pages you will ever read. The book is slow and I felt uninterested in the topics. It's not the greatest book and there are better books on the subject.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having heard so much about this book, I was a little disappointed when I actually sat down to read it. While I appreciate the author's honesty about her unwillingness to be inconvenienced in certain ways (using a car, having a wad of 'start up' cash, etc.), it made her alternating moments of whininess and self-congratulation all the more irritating. Also, her focus on the process of making herself poor limited her ability to go deeper into the actual experience and, more importantly, the experiences of those around her. I found 'The Broke Diaries' more entertaining and insightful.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author certainly talked the talk, but she really didn't walk the walk. She only spent three months trying to figure out the problems of the working poor; and all the time having her emergency money handy, her ATM card, and her mind set on the things that she would absolutely not do without. In the REAL world of the working poor, those options are not always a reality. The concept of the book was good but if she had stayed with it for a year or more without any help from her 'real life', then the story, from her point of view, might have been a better read for me. This book seemed more like a reality show that the author stepped into while knowing she could bale out at any time. If I had not had to read it for school, I would not have read it for pleasure.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book couldn't help me wondering how efficient a person with zero degrees, no money, no car, etc. would do in this situation. Just the simple fact that Ms. Enrenreich had start up money puts her far and above the average person looking for work. This book reminds me of the world I grew up in and visit quite often, rural America, except for one obvious difference: there are no Merry Maids and very few restaurants to even apply for a job. People there rely on friends and family, a garden, and the land, using its wild fruits, plants, and trees to survive. If one wants to know how to get by and thrive in America, get away from the cities and towns and travel the very rural roads of Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Nebraska. The people you will find are certainly not loaded with money, but have the values and substance needed to not only survive, but lead a rich and stop-to-smell-the-roses lifestyle.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Nickel And Dimed is perhaps the single greatest book on wealth and income inequality in modern America. It is jarring and full if wit but at the same time it is incisive and written by someone who definitely is as the critics say "a veteren muckraker." Ehrenreich is a pure genius who is able to transform an already interesting topic into an irresistible masterpiece that you just cannot put down. I find myself constantly providing my waiters and cabbies an exorbitant tip after reading this book because it illuminates the struggles of poor Americans. I do not have a single negative thing to say about this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have always felt the need to show respect to all people because you never know their circumstances and what they’re going through, but I feel that embedded in everyone of us is a feeling of superiority towards those of a lower status than our own. This riveting story made me feel a greater sense of respect for blue-collar Americans and what they undergo on a day-to-day basis. I now feel more conscientious of how I treat the lower class and how I view those in poverty, because even though some might simply be lazy, most are working hard to be successful. Although Ehrenreich is incapable of fully transforming her life into one of a minimum wage worker, she still gives great insight into what blue-collar Americans go through. On her first day as a housekeeper in Florida, Barbara cries, “I had gone into this venture in the spirit of science… but somewhere along the line… it became a test of myself, and clearly I have failed.” (Ehrenreich 48) She goes on to say that although she doesn’t ever cry, she found out that day that her tear ducts do still work. Even though this job doesn’t seem to require much skill, it does (like many other low wage jobs), cause a great deal of stress that even caused a woman with a PhD to quit on the first day. Hearing this made me question how I treat others and how it might affect their lives outside of work. According to New York Times, there was a study published in 2012 that, “Tracked women for 10 years [and] concluded that stressful jobs increased the risk of a cardiovascular event by 38 percent.” (Porath) I have also always had the misconception that there are tons of secrets to getting by on minimum wage, but Barbara explains, “There are no secret economies that nourish the poor…” (Ehrenreich 32) These people work such stressful jobs and don’t get a ton of help from anyone, especially their customers. Most blue-collar Americans even have shorter life expectancies because of their stressful jobs. In the Washington post it was said that, ”…job insecurity, long hours, heavy demands at work and other stresses can also cut down on a worker’s life expectancy by taking a heavy toll on a worker’s health.” (Swanson) Through reading Nickel and Dimed I have gained a greater appreciation and respect for the minimum wage workforce of America. They undergo so much that many of us don’t understand and they deserve to be treated just as fairly as the richest people. I have realized that there’s a lot that I’ve taken for granted in my own life and I have been very fortunate to grow up in the home that I have. Nickel and Dimed has changed my perspective on blue-collar Americans for the better and has strengthened my desire to excel in schooling so that I never have to know what it’s like to work in such a stressful job!
pumpernickel1997 More than 1 year ago
Had to read this for college. Terrible. This author is an absolute arrogant woman and it showed throughout the entire book. The concept and idea was spectacular but she executed this with bias after bias after bias.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ilovemister More than 1 year ago
This book should be required reading in high school. It should be required reading for all branches of the government (especially republicans). The working poor are not a myth. They are real Americans trying to make it in this country  All of the pundents who blab on Fox should read this and then be made to work like she did and then see if they change their tunes. I doubt it. They beleive it is not that way. What ever happened to compassion?Please read this book. Everyone should
WhiteFlowerLei76 More than 1 year ago
This is an incredible book that exposes income inequality. Don't believe the fake bad reviews that are clearly written by tea party conservatives that would prefer you ignore income inequality because if you were more informed you might not vote for the people responsible for making it worse.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book gives an inside scoop on poverty in America, which some of us are totally unaware of. The book is not meant to be biased or racist, but rather depicts hard workers in the lower- class, trying their best to achieve the popular "American Dream". The negative reactions to this book are aimed at the characters of the story, while it's the big picture of the story that should be analyzed-- that low-wage jobs require "unskilled" labor. Ehrenreich attacks this notion and society's provincial point-of-view.   
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ehrenreich tells a great story while uncovering a shocking truth in America. Her determination to call attention to the living situation of the poor in America is refreshing in a society dominated by the rich and powerful. Definitely a good read for anyone interested in economics or social work. - Andrew R.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ehrenreich, in my opinion, has showed the plights of the poor working class and how there needs to be changes. She has proved that it's  difficult or impossible to sustain oneself on minimum wages and I commend her for doing so. However, she is better off than these people  and only needs to be in these situations for a month. Also when her own voice comes out, like her swearing it can be annoying.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In the book entitled Nickel and Dimed Barbara Ehrenreich investigates what it is like on not getting by in America and how people live on minimum wage. First Ehrenreich points out how some of the workers are living she said “Marianne who is a breakfast server, and her boyfriend are paying $170 a week for a one person trailer” showing us that people who are on a minimum wage budget have to share a place and it still is not even a decent place or comfortable living style for the couple earning only 7 to 8 dollars an hour. Then Ehrenreich moves to Maine where she got a job as a low paying maid and experienced some more people with housing issues and she hears holly say “Something snapped […] I heard it snap.” Ehrenreich tells Holly they have to take her to an emergency room […]”, but her response is no I don’t have enough money too and this shows her point on how it is hard to live on minimum wage if you can not even afford doctor. Finally she moves one more time to Minnesota where she works at Wal-Mart and hears about Caroline’s situation which was even more precarious, we learn: “she had two children to take care of. How did she do it? She found a church as soon as she arrived in Orlando, thereby found a school for her twelve year-old and day care for her baby, got a job cleaning hotel rooms, and made friends”, this also backs the author up because this lady is barley getting by with her two kids. What I really liked about this book is that it shows you how some ordinary people strive to live on minimum wage and support there family’s too. For example Caroline who supported two kids on 7 dollars an hour, to me that is amazing that you are able to still support a family with such little money to even begin with. I also liked this book because of the way she explained what she had to do to get a job. For example she said “Each potential new job requires (1) the application, (2) the interview, and (3) the drug test—which is something to ponder with gasoline running at nearly two dollars a gallon, not to mention what you have to pay for a babysitter”, telling me what the process was so that you could get a job. The only reason I did not like this book is because of some of the foul language the author had chosen, but otherwise I loved the book and thought it was interesting. I would recommend this book to you because it is good to know what to do when you run into a situation like this and the author really goes into detail on how she survived on minimum wage.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
it was weak
Anonymous More than 1 year ago