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

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

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by Barbara Ehrenreich, Frances Fox Piven

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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 -…  See more details below


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.

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Editorial Reviews

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.

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Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
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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 objet 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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Molly Ivins
Reading Ehrenreich is good for the soul.
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Barbara Ehrenreich is smart, provocative, funny, and sane in a world that needs more of all four.

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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. 121 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 11 months 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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To her credit I am extremely grateful that she did the book in general, and particularly satisfied that she took the time to mention the poor diets of the maids she worked with and the ridiculous behavior of the customers that used the cleaning service.  I am sure Nickel and Dimed was enlightening to many, however, excluding herself from the inconvenience of diet, housing, and transport restrictions that people living under the minimum wage regime suffer totally changed her experience from being poor incarnate to kind of looming near the poor and guessing what they were going through while translating their complaints. -laylajewels
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome book would really recommend it, gives you a perspective of the working class and shows all the obstacles that they go through
Mooslynn More than 1 year ago
This was a book that I was required to read for a class I took in college, and we all know required reading has one requirement...boredome. That was not the case with this one as I found it very enlightening and informative. The information that you gain about minimum wage jobs and how people struggle every day to get by was heartbreaking to say the least. Now with the economy the way it is this hits even closer to home.