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Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Paperback – Aug 2 2011
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In contrast to recent books by Michael Lewis and Dinesh D'Souza that explore the lives and psyches of the New Economy's millionares, Ehrenreich (Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class, etc.) turns her gimlet eye on the view from the workforce's bottom rung. Determined to find out how anyone could make ends meet on $7 an hour, she left behind her middle class life as a journalist except for $1000 in start-up funds, a car and her laptop computer to try to sustain herself as a low-skilled worker for a month at a time. In 1999 and 2000, Ehrenreich worked as a waitress in Key West, Fla., as a cleaning woman and a nursing home aide in Portland, Maine, and in a Wal-Mart in Minneapolis, Minn. During the application process, she faced routine drug tests and spurious "personality tests"; once on the job, she endured constant surveillance and numbing harangues over infractions like serving a second roll and butter. Beset by transportation costs and high rents, she learned the tricks of the trade from her co-workers, some of whom sleep in their cars, and many of whom work when they're vexed by arthritis, back pain or worse, yet still manage small gestures of kindness. Despite the advantages of her race, education, good health and lack of children, Ehrenreich's income barely covered her month's expenses in only one instance, when she worked seven days a week at two jobs (one of which provided free meals) during the off-season in a vacation town. Delivering a fast read that's both sobering and sassy, she gives readers pause about those caught in the economy's undertow, even in good times.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
1) the Jesuit ideals strongly emphasized at the university, mainly serving the less fortunate and
2) how fortunate we are to be receiving a college education, never having to deal with minimum-wage jobs again.
Ehrenreich decided to masquerade as a just-off-welfare woman returning to the work force. She did this by being a waitress in Florida, a maid and a nursing home worker in Maine, and a Wal-Mart employee in Minnesota. She ended up concluding that today's rents are too high, minimum wage is too low, and it's a miracle that the poor are able to survive today.
This was a great premise for a book. Unfortunately, Ehrenreich went about it completely wrong.
She barely put an effort into going undercover. After a few weeks of "slumming", which she viewed from an almost "glamorous" perspective ("Ooh! That looks INTERESTING!"), she would move on, claiming that the work was too hard. Most notably, when at Wal-Mart, she quit after a few days because bending over made her stiff at the end of the day.
I'm fortunate enough not to have relied on jobs like these for an income, but I HAVE recently worked at a variety of entry-level positions: retail, sales (lingerie and medical), office work, telemarketing, and now, waitressing. These jobs ARE hard. You don't quit because you get sore! You keep at it -- because there's NOTHING BETTER.
So, to conclude:
--The wages ARE too low and the rents ARE too high. You were correct in that, Ms. Ehrenreich.
--However, your reports were inaccurate, and your understanding of journalism was flawed beyond comprehension.
Would I recommend this book? Perhaps.Read more ›
Barbara Ehrenreich sets out to determine whether the working poor can actually live on their meager wages. It's an interesting enough premise, which is why I bought the book. We discover that work is harder than Barbara thought; housing is harder to find than Barbara thought; and that the poor refuse to recognize just how downtrodden they are. After adventures and misadventures, Barbara determines that the low-wage poor just can't get by; they are in crisis.
Perhaps they are; but you wouldn't know it by this book. Our heroine pops from city to city, offering no skills whatsoever to a prospective employer, and never fails to land a job almost immediately. Her househunting skills are abysmal, she fails to capitalize on the housing she does discover (for example, in the housing market in Minneapolis, which she describes as the tightest in the nation, she turns her nose up at a room without a kitchen, opting instead for a 50-dollar-a-night motel room -- without a kitchen). She smokes a doobie or two (she doesn't mention where she got the weed, or how it factored into her expenses) and then spends several pages excoriating the humiliating urinalysis process - which was, after all, designed to weed out dilettantes like Barbara. She tries to interest her fellow workers in the Revolution, sort of, when she's feeling revolutionary, but can't sustain the urge.Read more ›
What I had hoped for was a first-hand, unbiased view of what it is like to live today as an unskilled American worker. Unfortunately, Ehrenreich appeared to have an agenda from the outset. To be completely honest, I too had an agenda when I bought the book. I expected to gain further support for my view that the American workplace today is a difficult place, unlivable for all but the most priviliged. So what's my beef with Ehrenreich's book, since that seems to be its theme?
Firstly, there is a an almost complete lack of factual support for the majority of the author's conclusions. The lines between her opinions and actual facts are blurry at best. Second, Ehrenreich consistently bemoans employees' problems in the workplace while belittling employers' challenges. In the real world, it's acknowledged that when an employee takes a job, she is "selling her time and skills" to an employer. In contrast, Ehrenreich spends large sections of her book going on about how ridiculous it is that her employers had opposed her doing personal errands at work, or standing around and chatting with co-workers. She pokes fun at these employers for calling her behavior "stealing time". In my experience, most employees acknowledge that it is cheating their employer if they are being paid to work, and they instead sneak out to do something personal, or hide from the boss to chat with co-workers. By failing to acknowledge even the most valid of her employers' complaints, Ehrenreich loses credibility with the audience.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Great book...really enjoyed it. Ms. Ehrenreich has a nice writing style.Published 8 months ago by Aunt Nan
This was such an eye opening book for me. Barbara Ehrenreich went undercover to work these minimum-wage paying jobs and documented what she experienced. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Kelsi
An eye opener, really changed my fixed ideas of how working people survive.Published 20 months ago by Adrian de Jong
I heard about this book years and had never gotten to read it. Biy oh boy, this is an eye-opening read ! Read morePublished 21 months ago by Eric D Savage
I have shared this book with many. Must read for anyone who believes there is an equal playing field in today's job market and all that is needed to is for individuals to pull... Read morePublished 22 months ago by Nancy Elliott Bijl
After reading this book I can only say the author is completely focused on the moral aspect of life and is lacking in the logical area. Read morePublished on Nov. 30 2013 by David M.
This book really does bring the other side of the working class people which we don't really see in day today life. I really like this book.Published on Oct. 9 2013 by Damanjit Singh
Too often writers of political/social commentary expect their readers to accept anecdotal evidence as though it were a series objectively quantified observations. Read morePublished on Aug. 11 2013 by Dennis Myers
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