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Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (original 2001; edition 2002)
by Barbara Ehrenreich (Author)
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)
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I had high hopes for this book. Wealth disparity is a topic I've been interested in for years. Ehrenreich does get into a little bit, but I felt like too much of the book was her privilege showing. There was far more about her than there needed to be. In fact, I'd say more than half of the story was about her and if she was going the Gonzo journalism route, she wasn't entertaining enough. ( )
I have complex feelings about this book, but it does shed light on a huge societal problem that people shouldn't turn their eyes from.
Too dated. Too much a character study by a journalist moonlighting as poor, rather than a more meaningful exploration. I much preferred Evicted, as the kind of rigorous social science I’m interested in.
So many people say that if people only worked harder, they would be able to afford nice homes, adequate diets, decent schools for their children, and appropriate medical care. In 1999, author Barbara Ehrenreich, who had a PhD in biology, set out to see how true that was.
She traveled to three different cities–Key West, Florida, Portland, Maine, and Minneapolis, Minnesota–and planned to spend a month in each one. Her advance research said she would be able to find low paying jobs and affordable housing at each location and planned her budget with that in mind. She took a minimal amount of very basic clothing, rented cheap lodging and(with a credit card) cheap cars, and a little money to spend for deposits on housing and emergencies.
She found that life was a lot tougher than she anticipated. In most locations, it was almost impossible to find any housing in her price range (that being her salary) and what was available was extremely inadequate: poor maintenance, lack of a refrigerator or stove, etc., and even those sites were difficult to find. Often she ended up in a run-down motel or hotel that cost more than half of her salary. She also found she had to work two jobs just to afford that.
In Key West, she worked as a waitress and a hotel maid. The hours were long and their regulations stifling, In the restaurants, they were not allowed to talk to other servers or spend much time with their customers because it took them away from their other duties: setting tables, preparing dishes, cleaning up, etc. They were also unable to sit down while on duty and their breaks were few and short. They split their tips with the busboys and dishwashers. In both situations, patrons tended to ignore them unless they wanted something and then tended to look down on them.
In Maine, she worked as a member of a national housecleaning crew company and in the dining room at a nursing home for Alzheimer’s patients and being able to eat leftover food in the second. Salaries in both cases were very low and, in the second, the unit was understaffed so she had to do more work to meet the needs of the residents without extra compensation Two benefits were doughnuts and coffee before going to work in the first situation (the company took in more than the workers received).
In Minnesota, one of her jobs was at Wal-mart. After an intensive orientation, she found that she was placed in departments about which she had little knowledge. After having to work overtime without being reimbursed (the time sheets were altered to remove the hours), she tried to get the employees to unionize.
The conditions under which Ehrenriech lived were terrible but she had advantages many lf her co-workers at each location lacked: She did not have anyone else, e.g., child, ill partner or parent, depending on her income and presence and was in good physical condition.
NICKLE AND DIMED is an excellent portrait of what life is really like for low-income people trying to make it in our society. Hopefully, readers will be more conscious of what they are trying to do and appreciate how much they are accomplishing without as much support, financially and socially, as they deserve.
read in New Yorker then bought book and finished on Thompson Hill
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.
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Wikipedia in English (2)
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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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)305.569092 — Social sciences Social Sciences Groups of people Class Lower, alienated, excluded classes Poor people History, geographic treatment, biography
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An edition of this book was published by Recorded Books.