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Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in…

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2001)

by Barbara Ehrenreich

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8,668171351 (3.74)194
  1. 30
    The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy by Lisa Dodson (zhejw)
    zhejw: In the 1990s, Barbara Ehrenreich goes "undercover" to discover how low wage workers (don't) get by. In the next decade, Lisa Dodson tells the stories of some such workers and their children, but focuses her time on those who supervise and serve them, subverting the system to help.… (more)
  2. 30
    Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado (4leschats)
    4leschats: Both deal with the cyclical nature of poverty and its ability to trap people.
  3. 20
    Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (WoodsieGirl)
    WoodsieGirl: To see how little things change...
  4. 10
    Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam W. Shepard (amyblue)
  5. 00
    Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won't Do by Gabriel Thompson (Euryale)
    Euryale: Thompson's work focuses more on the nature of low wage work and the ways immigrants are segregated in certain industries or departments, rather than on housing conditions or whether the wages are sufficient for survival.
  6. 00
    Mcquaig Linda : Canada'S Social Welfare by Linda McQuaig (bhowell)
  7. 11
    Dishwasher: One Man's Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States by Pete Jordan (Othemts)
    Othemts: A pair of books that show the conditions for the worker in America's least desirable jobs.
  8. 00
    Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance (Othemts)
  9. 01
    Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki (readysetgo)
    readysetgo: An opposing view to the fatalistic tone of this book.
  10. 03
    Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America by Mike Yankoski (infiniteletters)

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» See also 194 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 170 (next | show all)
I had mixed feelings about this book.

I enjoyed reading the experiences.

She annoyed me when she talked about the advantages for the Client of dealing with an agency for maids, but not getting the advantages for the maid of working through an agency. Let me explain it when you work through an agency the agency takes care of taxes, insurance, getting the clients, billing the clients, and collecting from the clients. On your own you have to find the clients, get them to pay you and if you break something the client can come after you to replace it. I remember someone being self employed and having a terrible time getting people to pay on time or at all. He found it very hard to be the tough, mean bill collector he sometimes needed to be.

I ended up skimming through the Evaluation. She did go into the difficulties of trying to find another job. But I was annoyed when she was talking about why workers don't stand up and fight for better pay. For her it was a lark to try to bring up the Union idea at Wal-Mart. She didn't have to worry, she was leaving anyway. But when you are barely getting by the fear of making waves and getting fired is very real. If she got fired she could just go back to her old live, but the others could end up homeless or unable to feed their children. She had a safety net, the working poor do not. ( )
  nx74defiant | Apr 7, 2017 |
Ehrenreich posed as a waitress in order to discover how the working poor in America cope financially. I expected to find an examination of the cost of living, but instead found the flip-side: the difficulty of making a living, earning an income.

As with any such journalism of this type, it’s hard to truly capture the desperation of not having the luxury of back-up, knowing that, at any time, you can return to another life, job, and bank account. Ehrenreich does acknowledge these limitations.

A fine effort.

3½ stars ( )
  ParadisePorch | Mar 6, 2017 |
In 1998, writer Barbara Ehrenreich was looking for a new story to write for Harper's and was having lunch with the editor when the conversation turned to the topic of people going off welfare and going into the workforce and having trouble making it. She said someone should go undercover and investigate this and he said why don't you. So soon she is spending about a month in different locations trying to live off of $6 to $7 dollars. From Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a house cleaner, a nursing home aide, and a Wal-Mart salesperson.

In Florida, she went to Key West and tried to get a job working as a hotel worker but that backfired and she instead got a job waiting tables instead of at a hotel chain's restaurant. Her first place was a small rented efficiency that went for $500 which was cheaper and nicer than the trailer she looked at, but it was also a forty-five-minute drive to the eventual job she would get. She learned quickly that the want ads are a bad way to find a job in that employers place them and take applications constantly because there is a high turnover rate. So there may be no opening right then, but there may be one soon. She had waited tables in her youth, but it was hard getting back into the swing of things. She has to learn how to use a computerized screen for ordering food.

And she learns a lot about her co-workers, such as Gail who is living in a flop house and paying $250 a month with a male friend who is now hitting on her and driving her crazy but with the rent so cheap how can she go elsewhere? And Claude the Haitian cook who is desperate to get out of the two-room apartment he shares with his girlfriend and two other people. Or Tina who is living with her husband at the Days Inn and paying $60 a night and Joan who lives in her van. Some of these people end up having to rent a hotel room to live in because they can't pay first and last month's rent at an apartment or trailer. Barbara was able to because she budgeted for it in each city she goes to stay.

She ends up taking a second waitressing job at Jerry's and tries at first to hold both jobs but just can't do it, so she keeps the job at Jerry's which is paying more at an average of $7.50 an hour in tips. She also gives up her nice efficiency because the drive is eating up too much in gas money and takes a cheap cramped trailer. The other women she works with either work a second job or has a boyfriend or husband to help make it work. But she still needs a second job herself and takes a housekeeping job at a hotel, which is when things begin to fall apart.

In Portland, Maine, she puts out many applications and at Merry Maids (Like at Winn-Dixie in Florida and another job she applied for in Maine) she is asked to take a test. This one is the Accutrac personality test. All these tests are designed to find out whether or not you will steal from the company or do drugs, or turn in someone else who has stolen something. The Accutrac also tries to determine your mental health as well. These tests are a joke and can be easily faked. While waiting to get into her new place the Blue Haven Motel that has a kitchen, she also applies to be a dietary aide at a nursing home on the weekends. This involves feeding the elderly and often those with Alzheimer's their meals. If they do not like what is being served she can make them something else they might like such as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It's a nice job, until one day when things go wrong. At Merry Maids she learns the truth behind the lives of these women and how they will work with a twisted ankle or operate a vacuum cleaner on their back even if they have arthritis or back problems because they need the job and the money, even if it isn't all that much.

In Minnesota, she has an impossible time finding a place to stay. The economy is supposed to be good there and jobs are supposed to be plentiful there and she does find a job at Wal-Mart, which she ends up finding out was a mistake and that she should have taken the other job selling plumbing at a hardware store. At first, she stays in the apartment of a friend of a friend until she can find a place, but that place just won't open up and soon she finds herself living in a run down motel with no kitchen much less a fridge and no screen on the window or a fan for the room. There is a massive shortage in Minnesota of housing for a reasonable price. Everyone is living in motels and there is a shortage in places to stay in motels. Working at Wal-Mart changes her into a person that she does not recognize. A very mean, bitch of a woman. And she recognizes this and wonders if it does this to everyone. She's only making $6 and change and she really needs to take a second job, which is made difficult with Wal-Mart changing her schedule. It is here that you really see her dark side. I like to think that it isn't who she really is, but just a facet of her personality put under a microscope and blown up a million times.

One thing that bothers me about her is that she is against drug testing, which the ACLU has always been against them. And back when this book was published they were just starting to require it at various jobs. She tries to make it an invasion of privacy and a "the man" is trying to put you in your place and degrade you. I have found that most people who have problems with drug test use drugs. And that is certainly the case here. To work at either Wal-Mart or the hardware store she has to do a drug test and she isn't sure she can pass it because she had smoked a joint in the recent past and marijuana stays in the system a long while. Of course, there are ways to cleanse it out of your system, which she does and passes the test. She also says that she is worried that her Claritin-D would show up as Chrystal Meth. When you go to get a drug test you tell the technician what drugs you are taking and they will know what is in your system. Besides, I took a drug test in 1997 to get my job as a librarian and I was taking Claritin and the woman told me none of my allergy medicines would have any effect on the test. So she really had nothing to worry about on that front.

What else bothered me was some of her racist remarks. She refers to those who live in the Southwest as Chicanos. And she bitches about not being able to go to certain California towns because the Hispanics have hogged all the low wage jobs and all the cheap places to live. It's not a pretty side to her.

That being said, she made some very valid points about how we measure poverty. Poverty has always been measured according to how much food costs, but these days half of your pay can go toward your home, apartment, or another dwelling place. They are constantly in danger of being homeless or ending up in a motel if they are lucky. And some of these places know that they can get someone else to replace you easily and they let you know it, so you feel compelled to do whatever they ask and put up with bad working conditions in order to keep the job you so desperately need. While this book was written over fifteen years ago, nothing has really changed. Lots of Wal-Mart workers are on Medicaid and food stamps. People are working more than one job just to barely get by and are not always succeeding. Something needs to change. Maybe that would involve starting with raising the minimum wage. And trying to do something about affordable housing. While Ehrenreich felt as though she did this experiment as a lark and was never in any danger of going hungry (She kept her ATM card for emergencies such as that and anything else.) and she didn't have to worry about feeding anyone else like so many other women do, she does shine a light on an important problem in America today. ( )
  nicolewbrown | Feb 1, 2017 |
Funny + Sad
Tries to live on min wage
FLA, Maine, Minnesota — waitress, chambermaid, etc.

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
  christinejoseph | Jan 5, 2017 |
I am very disappointed by this book. I was expecting something deep and insightful, but instead I received something shallow, halfhearted, and timid. Ultimately I came to pity the author and her skewed world view more than her writing could ever help me feel the plight of America's impoverished. And going by her standards, I may actually be one of them. Strange that she endeavored to step out of her own life and into the lives of the less fortunate, but really she only took an insult-ridden vacation from reality. ( )
1 vote beckyrenner | Dec 29, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 170 (next | show all)
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.

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barbara Ehrenreichprimary authorall editionscalculated
Guglielmina, PierreTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gustafsson, KerstinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tamminen, LeenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Mostly out of laziness, I decide to start my low-wage life in the town nearest to where I actually live, Key West, Florida, which, with a population of about 25,000 is elbowing its way up to the status of a genuine city.
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Book description
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 millions in this position and Ms. Ehrenreich tells it -- and shows it -- like it is.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0805063897, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:02 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

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 -- could be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on six to seven dollars an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered as a woefully inexperienced homemaker returning to the workforce. So began a grueling, hair raising, and darkly funny odyssey through the underside of working America. Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, Ehrenreich worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly "unskilled," that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors.… (more)

» see all 5 descriptions

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