Nickel and dimed : on (not) getting by in America

by Barbara Ehrenreich

Paper Book, 2002


Millions of Americans work full-time, year-round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, the author 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, she 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," and 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. This work reveals low-rent America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity, a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate strategems for survival. Read it for the author'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. In her new afterword she explains why, ten years on in America this book is more relevant than ever.… (more)



Call number



New York, N.Y. : Henry Holt, 2002.


Media reviews

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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member _Zoe_
This was an easy read with a fascinating premise: the author goes "undercover" and tries to survive as a low-wage worker for a month in each of three cities.

It held my interest, but I was slightly underwhelmed. What she discovered was nothing surprising or new: rents are high and it's not easy to
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get by on minimum wage. I was expecting a bit more depth; in particular, I would have liked to hear more about the stories of her co-workers and not just her own experience.

Plus, I found that the author herself seemed irritating at times. When working at Wal-mart, she tries to point out to the other workers that they're being treated badly and brings up the idea of forming a union, but then goes on to tell the reader, "All right, I'm not a union organizer.... The truth... is that I'm just amusing myself, and in what seems like a pretty harmless way. Someone has to puncture the prevailing fiction that we're a 'family' here...." Um, why? I don't see the point in stirring up discontent if you're not going to help them do something about it. The last statement she makes about her Wal-mart experience is that she thinks she could have done something, if only she "could have afforded to work at Wal-mart a little longer" (the experiment ended when she could no longer support herself through her job there). Maybe that was intended as an inspiration to others, but it just left me wondering why she didn't use some of her own money from her "real" life to stay on for a while longer if she really felt that she could make a difference.

Overall, though, this was a worthwhile read. Those who are unfamiliar with the problems facing low-wage earners might get a lot out of this book, but if you already know that plenty of working people are living in poverty through no fault of their own, there's not a lot of new information here.
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LibraryThing member StoutHearted
Though Ehrenreich's experiment is over ten years old (done from 1998-2000), it rings close to home more than ever. With an economic downturn that has no end in sight, more Americans are part of the "working poor." These are the people who work long hours for little pay and still don't have enough
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money for sufficient food and shelter. The author vowed to work and live like one of these people and take the project seriously: Accept the highest paying job, the cheapest apartment that was safe, and live within the means of her salary. She became a waitress, a nursing home "nutritionist" (the home's fancy term for "lunch lady"), a maid, and a Wall-Mart associate. The first thing she learned was that one job is not enough. And don't just take her word for it - her coworkers in the various fields had to do all they could to scrape by: sharing housing, living in their cars, skipping meals, working a second or third job. These jobs are in demand, so why the low wages? Talk of unions are taboo. Socializing is deemed "time theft." With such morale killers, why do workers put up with it? There are many reasons: need for a job close to home, no time to job hunt or educate yourself through schooling, no money for clothes that will make you look presentable for job interviews... or even your current job! Barbara tells of how a woman working at Wall-Mart on 7 dollars an hour couldn't afford the required uniform polo shirt.

I believe Ehrenreich proved her point, but I do have some criticisms. First, her depiction of management as ogres because they make more money. She literally describes their personal appearances in unflattering terms, including pointing out weight problems. Yes there are mean managers just as there are mean coworkers, but the problem lies further up the chain -- there's no need to add "having a paunch" as a reason someone should be villainized. That comes off as less journalistic and more petty. She goes a bit overboard with her villainizing at times, such as when she talks about the upper-class folks who keep the maids in business. It's right to point out the class differences, but to turn the homeowners (or the ladies of the house, rather) into Cinderella's Wicked Stepmother is a tad one-dimensional. But this is the working class's story, so we get more heartbreaking tales of their struggle to survive on abysmal pay. And it is difficult not to be moved by their stories.

Another criticism I had was that the cities Ehrenreich chose to work in weren't very eclectic. (Key West, Florida; Portland, Maine; and Minneapolis, Minnesota) She purposefully avoided big cities like NYC or LA, but I would have liked to see how she would have fared in these places. I'm not sure how accurate a representation of the working lower-class American she got in the places she worked avoiding the big cities, where much of the lower-class population lives.

This novel was cited in "Mental Floss" magazine's most influential books for its expose on the working poor and the conditions in which they work. But ten years later, has the book made it's mark? She confronts some major social issues that affect a good portion of the population. But has anyone listened? These days we give bailouts to floundering businessmen while the lower class fills up tent cities, modern-day Hoovervilles. Ehrenreich makes a good point that society is less likely to feel sorry for the poor when they paint them as lazy, ignorant do-nothings. She paints them different: overworked, underpaid, and physically and emotionally exhausted.

This book will resonate with anyone who took a low-paying job to get by, and hopefully give a little perspective to those who had it easier in life. I hope that if nothing else comes from this book, that people treat their waiter, their maid, their cashier a little more kindly in the future.
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LibraryThing member saschabos
I read Nickel and Dimed as part of my required summer reading for school, and I found it to be completely horrible and possibly one of the worst books I've ever read. Basically what happens is that Barbara Ehrenreich, successful journalist, decides to engage in a little experiment: equipped with
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only her car, laptop, and a predetermined amount of cash, she works several minimum-wage jobs and writes about her findings. I have no idea why anyone would want to read this book. If I wanted to know what it was like to work a minimum-wage job in America, I would read a book written by someone who has actually experienced working a minimum-wage job - not a rich woman merely speculating on the conditions faced by poor people (I think it's pretty difficult to understand the plight of the impoverished when you work only for a month at a time). Nickel and Dimed is made even worse by Ehrenreich's defensive and whiny writing style. This book is filled with logical fallacies and I cannot believe it has become perhaps the most popular book about poverty on the market.
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LibraryThing member drebbles
Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed" is an interesting, if flawed, look at how people who work at minimum wage jobs get by in America. Ehrenreich takes on a series of low paying jobs - waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing home aid and clerk at Wal-Mart, working at each job for a month
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while finding out if she has enough money to find a place to live and pay for rent and still have money left over for groceries. The descriptions of each job and the amount of work she does for little pay is eye-opening as is the struggle to find affordable housing. The way management (as well as the general public) treats the workers is also eye opening. The "affordable" housing that Ehrenreich finds is often a squalid hotel room with little security. And with little money left over after paying rent, meals are hard to come by, and forget about being able to afford health insurance.

The major flaw in this book is Ehrenreich herself. She's not really poor and it's hard for the reader to emphasize with her because it's clear she'll walk away after only a month in the job (often leaving her coworkers in the lurch). She also doesn't work consecutive months at a time, instead spreading the jobs over a long period of time, returning to her "real" life in between, so she never goes more than a month at a time having to live paycheck to paycheck. She never gets close to her coworkers, the true poor, which would have added real insight to how the poor really live. When Ehrenreich develops a rash, she's quick to call her own doctor and use her credit card to pay for the prescription, rather than use over the counter medicine. Towards the end, Ehrenreich seems to tire of her assignment and seems contents to live in a series of hotel rooms rather than really look for affordable housing. Her last stint at Wal-Mart seems suspicious - she turns down a higher paying job and then continually complains not only about having to take a drug test but the way management treats the workers. She complains that Wal-Mart pays so little that workers can't afford to buy clothes there, only mentioning in passing that employees get a discount. With all the media attention focused on Wal-Mart, it's hard to believe her choosing to work there was accidental.

In the end however, the book does make a difference, at least to me. I'll think twice before carelessly tossing clothes back on the rack wherever I feel like when I shop and will tip waitresses 20% if not more.
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LibraryThing member KendraRenee
Was iffy about Ehrenreich halfway through her stories, as she seemed the epitome of the opinionated journalists I don't particularly like, at least in theory. But her evaluation won the day: very thorough and concise, with plenty of citations and sources backing herself up. It summarized her whole
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experience and vindicated her til-then unsupported opinions.. and not only that, it motivated me to action. An informational book like this one is only good if it can inspire its readers. Though I am a younger version of Barbara Ehrenreich--female, white, college-educated, raised wealthy--I have settled for minimum-wage jobs all my life. I could've written a far more thorough book on poverty in America as I have co-existed with it since I was 16 (though not exactly joined it, since I've lived with my parents). And now, spurned on by the horror stories in Ehrenreich's book, I am high-tailing it outta here.
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LibraryThing member crazy4reading
I finally finished this book. I am not one that usually enjoys books of this nature but since I am going through some rough patches right now I needed to read this book.

The author Barbara Ehrenreich decides to see how the low income people survive on the pay that they receive. As I read this book
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it really made me realize how much the rich seem to get richer and the poor get poorer. I borrowed this book from my son's friend and I am glad I did. It took me awhile to read the book because it is only 3 chapters long and I would stop reading and then not pick the book up in a long time and have to go back just to refresh my memory.

In this book Barb travels to different parts of the United States and gives herself a limited amount of money when she first moves to a new place to look for a low wage job. She first decides to find a job in Key West, Florida as a waitress. Her next stop is in Maine in the Portland Area as a maid, and her last stop is in Minnesota in sales.

Barb first starts off with looking for a place to live when she first arrives in Florida, Maine and Minnesota. As she is looking for housing she also looks for jobs by looking in the want ads or just seeing signs posted in stores, restaraunts etc. The interesting thing about the book is that the pay wages are so different in each area and also in the types of jobs she accuires. Her first job as a waitress only pays $2.43 an hr. plus tips. So depending on the type of waitress she is and the establishment can make the job a good or bad one. Plus the waitresses have to split the tips with the busboys.
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LibraryThing member bookblotter
I hate to be judgmental but, after all, this is a review. Who cannot be moved by the absurdity and difficulty of life at the lower fringes of income status in America? The stories were interesting, but I can't say that I learned anything new or anything that surprised me particularly. In my view,
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the book was of middling interest and reads like a compilation of feature stories from a newspaper or magazine.

Bottom line, if you're absolutely convinced that someone at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder should just pull themselves together and up by their bootstraps and become Donald Trump (hmmm?), maybe you should read this book. Or, better yet, volunteer at a food pantry...
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LibraryThing member agnesmack
"When someone works for less pay than she can live on - when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently - then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her heath, and her life."

I'd been meaning to read Nickel
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and Dimed for quite some time, partially because I was interested in the subject matter, and partially because I know so many people who should have been the target audience, but read it and hated it. After all was said and done, I found this book to be immensely informative and an important book for most anyone to read.

The basic premise is that the author, Barbara Ehrenreich, lives a comfortable life as a writer / journalist. She realizes that books/studies about the working poor don't really go far enough to explain the realities of their day to day lives, and so she sets off to live as they live for a few months at a time. She eventually lives in several cities, works at a number of low-wage jobs and shares her experiences.

The main issue people seem to have with this book is that though she doesn't use her education or work history to land the jobs she gets, she still has an incredible amount of privilege. No matter what her job applications say, she is clearly educated, she has been taught money managing skills, and she is articulate. She also knows that this is just an experiment, and at any time she can simply buy a plane ticket back to her comfortable life.

It's true that this isn't a 100% authentic portrait of what it's really like to work unskilled labor jobs, or how it feels to wake up every morning and not be sure how you're going to feed yourself after your 12 hour shift. But the author was very upfront about this, her writing is not congratulatory, as I'd worried, and in fact she gives example after example of the ways her experiment don't reflect the reality of her co-workers.

So no, it's not perfect, but for what it is it's interesting and very well-written. It's more than just a journal of her experience, it's also chock full of figures and facts that demonstrate how thoroughly she did her research, and how deep the economic and social divides really run in this country. Like I said, this is an important book. I'm glad I read it and I encourage others to do so.
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LibraryThing member eussery
Barbara Ehrenreich is an essay writer who went undercover and told her story in Nickel and Dimed: on (not) getting by in America. She figured it was the best way to see if it was possible to live off the money earned in low-wage jobs. The first month as a waitress and maid she is unable to make
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ends meet. The second month she is able to succeed only by working seven days a week doing work that she is unqualified for and feels degraded. Her coworkers along the way are often mistreated and ignored by supervisors. She often struggles with finding affordable and safe living. Her third attempt is at Wal-Mart where she could barley afford to eat fast food and housing. In her finding she discovered low-wage workers have very few options, little education, and transportation problems which limit access to a better paying job. Low wage employers are able to continue by reinforcing a message of low self-esteem. This included random drug tests, being yelled at by bosses, being accused of breaking rules. I found this story to be very interesting and eye opening. It reminded me of when I worked at McDonalds in high school. I always tell my students that working there was the hardest job I had for the least amount of pay. I realize college isn’t for everybody but surviving off a low wage job is basically impossible. This winner of the YALSA Alex Awards would be great for use the classroom especially in an Economics class. Grade 9 and up.
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LibraryThing member Charon07
No big surprises here, but still a horrifying look at the problem of the working poor in America. After going "undercover" as an unskilled worker, Ehrenreich discovers that it's just about impossible to pay for housing on $6 to $7 an hour. Ehrenreich is careful to point that her
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circumstances--having money in the bank to go back to, being able to pay for a doctor when she contracts a skin ailment rather than having to rely on the emergency room, being able to call it quits before she's forced to live in her car, and even having a car to begin with--make her experiences very different from those of people who don't have such resources to fall back on. The epilogue was particularly valuable in providing a broader economic and sociological perspective on why wages don't rise even when there's a shortage of unskilled labor, why the underpaid don't unionize, why people who are working full time or more are still living in poverty, and why poverty is so easily ignored by the better-off.
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LibraryThing member NatalieSW
Very interesting, appalling narration and discussion of the writer's foray into living as does America's employed underclass, the working poor. Learning to do new tasks at each new poorly paid position, knowing no one, and unable to pay rent, eat, and take care of the bills is the daily norm for
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millions in this position and Ms. Ehrenreich tells it -- and shows it -- like it is.
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LibraryThing member Bookish59
Outstanding expose of life on minimum wage. Employees who perform some of the most menial, back-breaking, demeaning jobs of all, and who are treated like the dirt they clean. Considered stupid, unimportant, expendable and virtually invisible by the restaurants, hotels and companies who use them to
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maximize their bottom line. Underpaid, uninsured, cheated over time worked, treated like criminals, consistently coerced to do more work with some of the worst tools (i.e. the heavy vacuum cleaner required to be WORN on the employee's back), inundated with STUPID corporate policies and procedures, and barely allowed any break time. Ehrenreich sheds a very strong light on those who work to survive but whose work is killing them! Between the low pay and high housing costs, this underclass doesn't earn enough to eat nutritiously, live in safety, or even buy some of the basics in life. They are discouraged from taking time off for illness or family emergencies with dismissal. Forget about thinking about their future. These people are exhausted and numb, and few resources for any kind of relief or help. And despite all this, many of these employees care and cover for each other when necessary.

I would imagine most of us aren't aware of just how bad things had gotten. And how these people and their work are simply taken for granted. And when we do think about it, haven't we rationalized it by thinking: they must be recovering alcoholics, addicts, kids who ran away from home - they messed up their lives, why should I care? We should care because most of those on minimum page don't fit into categories, they could be us, and because we live in one of the wealthiest countries of the world, because they have children and mostly because we benefit from their labor.

Great and Painful Read!!
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LibraryThing member Carlie
It has been ten years since Barbara Ehrenreich set out to expose how the working poor get by in America, seven years since she published her book about it, and six years since the first time I read it. So what has changed since then? Not that much. The poverty rate of the working poor has gone up
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and down over the last ten years, but not that much. The lowest rate was in 2000 at 4.7%, and the highest rate was in 2004 at 5.6%. As for 2007 and 2008, we will have to wait to see what those rates are. It takes two years for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to put out these reports, but I have a sinking suspicion that it will not be good news.

Now mind you, this book was a New York Times best seller - communities, libraries, and schools all over the country have read and discussed it, and still nothing has changed. What does that say about America? When Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, government stepped right in to fix the meat industry and the labor industry problems. When Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, support for the abolitionist movement increased and the fight to end slavery was hurried. There are numerous other examples, but the question still remains: Why hasn't anything changed for the working poor in America after such an exposé? Why is it that the demand for change seems to be so quiet?

Maybe we are all afraid of what will happen if those struggling to get by were suddenly able to more-or-less thrive. There are only so many resources, and if the poor get more then "I" will get less. Maybe if the poor are paid what their labor is worth, everything for "me" will get more expensive. Maybe if the poor are able to live in the same communities that "I" do, "I" won't feel quite so special anymore (plus they will bring all of their dirty children and drug problems with them). While I am being tongue-in-cheek, these are things that those of us who do have more should be thinking. Perhaps some of these statements hit a little too close to home to be humorous. Sure we want to see people's lives improve and to see people come out of poverty, but not if that means that "I" have to give something up.

And what exactly does Ehrenreich do to get by? Albeit, this is not a scientific study; it is only one woman's contrived journey to discover how little money she could make and still "get by," meaning still have a roof over her head and food in her belly. Getting by does not mean medical care, it does not mean going to the cinema, it does not mean new shoes when the old ones wear out, it does not mean purchasing a car. It means the basic, very basic necessities. Now, because this was a contrived journey, she had a lot more going for her than the people she worked with. She had a car, she had some starting out money, and she had the ability to know this was temporary and that she could leave at some point. Still, she had difficulties paying for meals, finding affordable living arrangements, and obtaining the level of pay that would at the very least provide her with a slight cushion. More than this, she had psychological difficulties due to working for nothing, being undervalued as a person, and seeing so many more doors closed to her than open.

She worked as a waitress, a maid, a nutrition aide, and an associate (Wal-Mart lingo for customer service and general picker-upper of strewn-around stock). Mostly she made minimum wage - sometimes a little less and other times a little more. Regardless of her pay, she could still not seem to "make it." Her largest struggle was with housing, finding it impossible to save up enough money to put down a security deposit in an apartment that was either realistically too expensive on her pay or should be condemned. A whole myriad of other problems befell her, which are all too common for the working poor.

The most endearing part of the book comes not from Ehrenreich's story, but rather from the stories of the other people she encounters, the real working poor that do not get to go back to a lush life because this IS their life. They have it rough, and they are a lot closer to home than you think. Perhaps if the readers of this book realized how close they are to being an underpaid working stiff, the social problems that create this situation would seem more pressing, and the changes that are needed would come more promptly. Trust me, I have seen it happen to some very good people. The situation is not getting better; in fact, I think it is getting worse.
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LibraryThing member spoko
This is a great book, and definitely a worthwhile read. I'm not giving it five stars for two related reasons. The first is that I don't think it goes far enough. I suppose that's to make it accessible, but I really think it needs more analysis of the systemic nature of the US's attack on the
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working poor. You could read this and just think, "Boy, that's tough," without ever thinking twice about why things are this way.

Then too, I was bothered by Ehrenreich's tone somewhat. She's obviously coming from a position of privilege, and I think it kept her from truly, deeply seeing the lives of the working poor. The prime example, for me, is the fact that she continued to take Claritin during this "experiment." Allergies are serious business, and they are more common among working class people (many of whom deal with some pretty obnoxious chemicals day in and day out), and Claritin was a pretty expensive prescription medication at the time of this book. In other words, if she truly wanted to understand the situation of the working poor, she should have stopped taking that medication for the duration. As someone who suffers from allergies, I know how debilitating they can be, and so I don't necessarily fault her for not going to that extreme. But at the very least she should have acknowledged her compromise on that issue, rather than simply mentioning it off-hand as though it weren't significant. But I don't think she truly understood how significant it was, and that lack of understanding runs throughout the book.
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LibraryThing member sara_k
For Nickel and Dimed: On (not) getting by in America, Barbara Ehrenreich set out to see how people coming off welfare managed work and housing. She made three forays into entry level work in three different areas of the US: Florida, Maine, and Minnesota. She started out with set-up money but then
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paid for her food, clothes, and housing from her wages. The jobs she worked at were waitressing, hotel room cleaning, house cleaning, food worker at a nursing home, and retail work at Wal-Mart. She lived in a variety of housing options some of which did not meet her minimal starting requirements of basic safety.

What did she find out? That poor people work very hard and barely make enough to survive. Any small health problem or the need to change jobs or housing can take the money that is used for sustaining food. Towns and city plans make affordable housing difficult to find near available jobs. Fresh, nutritious foods are not easily available near either the cheap housing or jobs and refrigeration and cooking sources/implements are often not included in rent even for furnished apartments/trailers.

I've put "Fear of Falling" on my list for future reading. I highly recommend this book. NEither the vocabulary nor the concepts are beyond the capacity of middle school children.
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LibraryThing member shawnd
ood sample of jobs. I felt like the best parts of the book were the selection of the jobs, the real life details of the unexpected negatives, and also the economic layout of trying to live on minimum wage. Until I read this, I believed that someone could have a viable if not new cheap car, a decent
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apartment all on a minimum wage job. After reading it, I felt differently, and started to understand more the trend of immigrants taking more of these jobs and living 2 familiies to an apartment. As another reviewer said, there was an aspect of a rich person having to live like a poor person--her being amazed about things poor people have to go through. Overall, a must read for someone trying to get a perspective on our culture and nation.
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LibraryThing member ngennaro
Despite some of thenegative reviews I found this to be a very interesting book and one that clearly shows how hard some people have it. We can quibble about her techniques and how she went about living the life of a person on theedge but the reality is scary and she pointed it out in excellent form.
LibraryThing member tldegray
I find this book to be incredibly offensive. It's written by the upper middle class for the upper middle class and comes off as condescending, in my opinion. (This, of course, makes me wonder how our studies of "third world" women would appear to them. We are dabblers in their world, can we really
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Ehrenreich's refusal to give up her entitlements (and indeed her endowments) makes it so she doesn't have to truly experience poverty. She discusses the poverty line in the Evaluation but she only complains that it measures something arbitrary; she doesn't note that what it does not measure are exactly those things that enabled her to walk out of a job when she was upset. She doesn't need the salary, she has other things to fall back on.

From personal experience I have to say that she got quite a bit wrong. In the Introduction she wonders why when she comes out to some of her coworkers they are neither surprised nor upset, instead only ask her if this means she won't be returning for her next shift. She thinks this is because (a) writing is thought of as a hobby, not a job and (b) that she wasn't successful at fooling them. What she does not ever realize is that they ask that question because that is their primary concern. Someone is going to have to cover that shift and it could be them. It could be a godsend because they need the extra money or it could be a disaster because switched shifts means switched transportation/childcare/and a host of other issues Ehrenreich doesn't seem to acknowledge until the Evaluation.

I've worked some of those jobs. I've been told that bathroom breaks take me away from my desk and therefore interfere with the work of the business. I've stood on my feet for 11 hour shifts snatching a dinner break on my feet in a corner of the crowded back room. I know that single mother who supports herself and three children on what she makes from working at a convenience store and a gas station and who faces financial ruin if she has to take time off because her middle son is sick. I've had my purse searched every day at the end of every shift despite my years of good work. I've been "honey" and "sweetie" and paid more than I could afford in order to meet a frequently changing dress code.

One thing that particularly bothered me was when Ehrenreich did not stand up for George, the dishwasher who was accused of theft. She compares working at this restaurant to being in a POW camp and uses that to excuse her lack of courage. She's wrong. The fault was hers, not the job. Plenty of us have seen our coworkers falsely accused and plenty of us have stood up. Don't blame the poor and the oppressed for your own failings.
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LibraryThing member BookAddict
Extremely interesting book and must be read by all those in a position of advantage.
I thought Ehrenreich did a superb job of presenting the pitfalls and hopeless situations of the working poor. Those of us who have been, or still are, in that situation will see incidents of our own lives in this
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Those who still think that the American dream is accessible to everyone clearly don't live in a world of reality.
I have read several books of this nature and this one is my favorite. I highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member jayceebee
One of those books everyone should read. This is what's really going on in modern America.
LibraryThing member hlselz
I didn't like the ways in which Ehreneich did her research. In my mind, trying to live like a person in poverty, and then NOT actually living like a person in poverty isn't a good way to determine how impovished people live.
LibraryThing member hmmn
Really interesting read, and quite funny at times but often reads as a little elitist. Most of the other reviewers have touched on how shallow her 'research' can be. . . I think that the information that we can extract from her experiences are at least a helpful addition to the discussion about the
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working poor.
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LibraryThing member Jeffrey414
Ehrenreich writes a disturbing tale of the vest majority of Americans trying to make a living on minimum wage jobs. I found it interesting and distressing that she left some of her “jobs” prematurely even with her education and resources in that she was unable to find housing and keep up with
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the tasks assigned to her. I found it insulting that she mocks the man with the bumper sticker, “Don’t steal-the government hates competition” insinuating that it is more than taxes that “keeps him out of the Embassy Suites” and later mocks the physical size of Mexican and Anglo families eating out at the buffet. I liked her self examination later suggesting “take away the career and the higher education, and maybe what you’re left with is this original Barb, the one who might have ended up working at Wal-Mart for real if her father hadn’t managed to climb out of the mines.” I have often thought along the lines of her concern about the total separation between lower and middle classes and the widening gap. “The rich and the poor, who are generally thought to live in a state of harmonious independence-the one providing cheap labor, the other providing low-wage jobs-can no longer co-exist.” Later, “there is no alternative to the megascale corporate order, from which every form of local creativity and initiative has been abolished by the distant home offices.” Currently there are four Walgreen’s and Rite Aids being constructed within two miles of my residence. Is only East Aurora is immune from this big box store invasion? Ehrenreich is reduced one day at Wal-Mart to “dodging behind a clothing rack to avoid a twenty-six year old management twerp” intent on catching her with “time theft.” Stolen from these low wage workers most harmful is there lack of personal self. “But as much as any other social animal we depend for our self-image on the humans immediately around us-to the point of altering our perceptions of the world so as to fit in with theirs.” Most problematic for me is that sixty percent of all American workers have incomes below the living wage Ehrenreich writes about. The lack of support for affordable child care and housing as in other civilized nations is dehumanizing. With wages remaining static and higher education costs skyrocketing, no longer are they able to afford education or training to lift them up from the bottom in America. How long can this majority be expected to subsist on wages that keep them in poverty, unable to afford health care or any meaningful life experiences?
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LibraryThing member TiffanyAK
For anyone who thinks that it's possible to live on a minimum wage, let alone live in any sort of comfort, this book should be required reading. It honestly explores the struggles gone through by millions of people every day: Trying to find housing they can afford, and still manage to afford other
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essentials like food; trying to deal with severe medical problems with no insurance and no extra money to spare; attempting to secure some sort of help in a desperate state to allow you to eat; and trying to eke out some sort of real life on minimum wage. The minimum wage in this country is absolutely pathetic when combined with our poor amount of resources used to truly help the poor (particularly compared to other countries, such as much of Western Europe). Housing costs are high, while the minimum wage is not rising remotely fast enough in comparison. Forget dinners out, trips to movies, or even renting a DVD for an evening's entertainment. It's all far out of your budget. Instead, try to imagine scraping together pennies to try to come up with the money for your housing, and still possibly not having enough for even the cheapest place. So, what do you do? Get another job? Even if you can find one that fits your schedule, how many hours can you really keep going in a day? Then, add in the most basic expenses of food, essential travel, and such, and you're basically already out of money before that's even covered, with nothing to spare for emergencies or even to cover a day of missed work due to illness. Barbara Ehrenreich does a great job in this book of taking us into a world many of us have never seen, but which millions struggle in every day. A world of four people in a room, counting every penny, and working until you collapse, then getting up and getting back to work because you can't afford not to. A world where internet access or cable TV at home are luxuries that can only be dreamed of, because even a $7 Wal-Mart t-shirt is too expensive. A world where a single medical bill, or other unexpected critical expense, can literally tip you immediately over the line between just getting by and homelessness. A world that, if more of us were truly aware of it, could perhaps be changed. I highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member missmath144
Most irritating of this book is that the author knew that other employees have to pick up the slack when an employee is absent. Knowing this, she quit each one of her six jobs without giving notice, even proudly walking off the floor in the middle of a waitress shift because they were getting hit
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really hard. She claimed to really feel for the people she worked with, but she always screwed them in the end by leaving without notice.

She obviously saw the low-paying jobs to be beneath her. In her summary she actually says, "I was amazed and sometimes saddened by the pride people took in jobs that rewarded them so meagerly." I have worked all the jobs she did, with the exception of Walmart, and I firmly believe that a person should take pride in whatever work she is doing, and do the best she possibly can. The author belittled people for doing these menial jobs, telling the maid Hollie (who was proud of her job) that anyone could get that job . . . anyone could pass that stupid test. She was offended at having to clean poop off people's toilet seats and felt she had to educate the readers in the three kinds of poop on toilets. I could educate HER on poop in tubs, poop on nightgowns, poop on floors and walls. What part of "cleaning lady" did she not understand when she took the job? Are we supposed to do away with all the elderly and sick because they create poop that needs to be cleaned up?

She also had a poor work ethic. She only made it one day as a hotel maid, even though she admitted taking 4.5 minutes per bed when it could have been done in 3 minutes, and watching t.v. all day as she worked.

Then to top it off, she wishes there were no big houses because then there wouldn't be any maid jobs. I would like her to tell all the maids in America that she would like to do away with their jobs. (Not everyone can go back to a writing job.) She said she wouldn't hire a maid, even though she could afford it and her husband wanted her to, because she "didn't want that kind of relationship with another human being." In other words, she would deny someone a job because it would make HER feel bad; doesn't matter that there are people who would love to have that job (and no one would force her to pay poorly or be a bitch with her maid).

The idea for the book was fine, but the task shouldn't have been taken on by someone who felt she was too good for it.
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Original publication date



0805063897 / 9780805063899
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