The New York Times bestseller, and one of the most talked about books of the year, Nickel and Dimed has already become a classic of undercover reportage.
Millions of Americans work for poverty-level wages, and one day Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that any job equals a better life. But how can anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 to $7 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich moved from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, taking the cheapest lodgings available and accepting work as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart salesperson. She soon discovered that even the "lowliest" occupations require exhausting mental and physical efforts. And one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors.
Nickel and Dimed reveals low-wage America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity -- a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate strategies for survival. Instantly acclaimed for its insight, humor, and passion, this book is changing the way America perceives its working poor.
Essayist and cultural critic Barbara Ehrenreich has always specialized in turning received wisdom on its head with intelligence, clarity, and verve. With some 12 million women being pushed into the labor market by welfare reform, she decided to do some good old-fashioned journalism and find out just how they were going to survive on the wages of the unskilled--at $6 to $7 an hour, only half of what is considered a living wage. So she did what millions of Americans do, she looked for a job and a place to live, worked that job, and tried to make ends meet.
As a waitress in Florida, where her name is suddenly transposed to "girl," trailer trash becomes a demographic category to aspire to with rent at $675 per month. In Maine, where she ends up working as both a cleaning woman and a nursing home assistant, she must first fill out endless pre-employment tests with trick questions such as "Some people work better when they're a little bit high." In Minnesota, she works at Wal-Mart under the repressive surveillance of men and women whose job it is to monitor her behavior for signs of sloth, theft, drug abuse, or worse. She even gets to experience the humiliation of the urine test.
So, do the poor have survival strategies unknown to the middle class? And did Ehrenreich feel the "bracing psychological effects of getting out of the house, as promised by the wonks who brought us welfare reform?" Nah. Even in her best-case scenario, with all the advantages of education, health, a car, and money for first month's rent, she has to work two jobs, seven days a week, and still almost winds up in a shelter. As Ehrenreich points out with her potent combination of humor and outrage, the laws of supply and demand have been reversed. Rental prices skyrocket, but wages never rise. Rather, jobs are so cheap as measured by the pay that workers are encouraged to take as many as they can. Behind those trademark Wal-Mart vests, it turns out, are the borderline homeless. With her characteristic wry wit and her unabashedly liberal bent, Ehrenreich brings the invisible poor out of hiding and, in the process, the world they inhabit--where civil liberties are often ignored and hard work fails to live up to its reputation as the ticket out of poverty. --Lesley Reed
Angela (USA: PA) (2007/12/16): I was riveted by this book and finished it in one day!
The back cover says: Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty level wages. Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them, inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reforem, which promised that any job equals a better life. But how can anyone survive, let alone prosper, on six to seven dollars an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich moved from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, taking the cheapest lodgings available and accepting work as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing home aide, and Wal-Mart salesperson. She soon discovered that even the 'lowliest' occupations require exhausting mental and physical efforts. And one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors. Nickel and Dimed reveals low wage America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity - a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate stratagems for survival. Instantly acclaimed for its insight, humor, and passion, this book is changing the way America perceives its working poor.
SouthernYankee (USA: TN) (2008/01/21): This book is on the United Methodist Women's Reading List and was riveting. Not many of us could stand to live this way. I admire her for attempting to do so. It is eye-opening and should be required reading in high school. Maybe it would encourage kids to stay in school and at least graduate from high school.
Maxx Lobo (USA: CA) (2008/10/01): Let me start by saying that I'm a free-market economic conservative, and a first generation immigrant. I also lean libertarian, and have strong views on a solid work-ethic, am poorly disposed towards social welfare, and tend to believe that lifting oneself up by the bootstraps is something *anyone* can do. Well, that was before I read this book.
As the author herself says, she didn't do anything ground-breaking or that millions of others don't live through on an existential basis. What she did do was open my eyes to the reality that much of the idea of "self-reliance" that we in the 'professional' class believe is possible for everyone neglects to take into account the decades of family support and connections, good routine health care, gym-generated physical fitness, language and education-derived abilities to research and weigh opportunities, freedom of transportation and sense of self-worth that comes from material success. I've taken this for granted almost all my life, as something that "everyone" had, and for which I was hardly special. The reality is that for most folks below the poverty line, some or many of these factors are completely non-existent, which becomes a major handicap - not unlike blindness in a world set up for people with sight - and prevents them from being able to rise above it.
I cannot say that this book makes me want to rush out and help the "invisible poor", but it did make me feel better about resisting the bourgeois hiring of a maid to clean my house, justified being a good tipper at restaurants, and made me resolve not to shop at Wal-Mart! It will also likely influence my opinion on voting on local issues, and my discussions with my social circle. I strongly recommend reading this book!
H. L. Repass (USA: VA) (2010/08/12): I don't often read non-fiction books in my spare time, but "Nickel and Dimed" is excellent, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to become more aware of modern America. This is a very thought-provoking book, and explores what it is like to live below the poverty line in America. My dad and I, who often have different opinions, both read it, and we had many facinating discussions. It is challenging, because it rethinks many assumptions people might have regarding what it is like to be poor, to have a job, to find housing, etc. It is also entertaining, as Ms. Ehrenreich narrates her first person account of poverty with empathy as well as humor. She is honest and insightful, sharing both the miserable and the wonderful. This is an awesome book.
Joey & Me (USA: NY) (2010/11/25): This was a GREAT book. I usually tend to read books that take me out of reality but honestly I am so glad I veered off and read this one. I just passed it along to the next BookMoocher!
cheryl (USA: AR) (2013/03/12): I Have this book-its up for mooching. Don't know why it isn't listed.