I believe that every single parent should read this book right before their kids graduate college. I have graduated from college, have my degree, and I'll be danged if I can find a decent paying job with insurance. Our Wal-mart was going to pay me only 6.75 an hour..and that was with money added in for years spent working on a farm..and that was with my degree. Not something a person could live on. This book is a must so that people can understand why so many college kids are coming back home (like I did). You just can't make it out there anymore it seems, and 7 bucks an hour won't pay the rent...and that is being serious.
An eye-opener, though I wish people of all financial status and age could have the opportunity to read this. Provides just the icing on the cake insight into the "working class." Quite interesting to see the growing paranoia of the author as she struggles to find semi-decent housing- perhaps this was the biggest struggle she had to face during her research. She does end with some broad rather PC conclusions but you have to remember that she's now back to her high-paying job and upper-middle class lifestyle. She's able to end on a cheery note that does not match the true dire conditions of the struggling working class Americans.
This was a very interesting social experiment about living (or not being able to live) on minimum wage. She works 5 different jobs throughout the book and talks about each one in detail. I really enjoyed it!
Making it (or not) on minimum wage in America. Life as a daily search for minimum wage work and affordable housing in the "land of plenty". Ehrenreich demonstrates that she couldn't have made it on the "mean streets", but her report ennobles those that have no choice but to do just that, every day.
Nickel and Dimed is a quick, entertaining and important read.
Thought provoking, especially to those of us who have been lucky enough not to struggle just to put a roof over our heads or food in our mouths. Even more interesting than the wage issues, were the company policies and behavior of "management" in the places the author worked.
A voyeuristic look at low-wage jobs (restaurant servers, Walmart clerks, maid services, nursing home operations) seen through short stints performed by the author. While Ehrenreich is pushing measures that will increase wages and resources for the lower class and includes some commentary throughout the book, she spends a lot more time focusing on her experience than arguing the issue and its potential solutions.
I thought this book was eye-opening - especially the working conditions and heavy-handed management scrutiny that this segment of the labor pool faces.
Considering myself as someone who pays attention to the "alternative" media, not much of this book came as a big surprise to me. I do think that it's a must-read for everyone, no matter what your class or financial status.
Ehrenreich, was ultimately not able to survive in the world of the working-poor she was investigating undercover. That's even with some advantages that many in that world do not have the luxury of, such as a car.
The biggest surprise to many might be that her "experiment" was conducted during Bill Clinton's presidency - a time of unsurpassed prosperity in the US. The author points out that prosperity results in higher property prices and rents, and so the poor are priced out of a home, leading to living in cars, sharing with others, and so on.
This book also admirably illustrates why the poor often do nothing to improve their circumstances once they get a job. They are made to feel worthless and fearful by a management style designed to turn the workforce into a malleable commodity. Once they are working, they often cannot afford to look for work elsewhere.
I was hoping for this to be a sensational expose, and I guess that for many it is. For me, though, it was an accurate journalistic account, but not full of new revelations.
Before you consider that trip to Wal-Mart (or consider whether it's wise to stand silent when one is proposed in your area), go out to eat or hire the "Merry Maids", you might want to read this first.
Ehrenreich has a very entertaining and informative website, containing, amongst other features, a blog and a guest commentary section.
This book should be required reading for all high school students and for every American who thinks you can live off of a minimum wage. It portrays the issues facing day workers in a very realistic fashion, and is especially pertinent in this time of high unemployment/underemployment.
Though this is a good book to read to get an idea about how the "poor" live, it is very unrealistic in that she started with a large sum of money and had an easy "out" at any time. We were required to read this for a class in my MSW program at UNC. Some of my fellow students who had never been poor found it very profound. After having been truly "poor" and dependent on welfare, I know that the prejudices and micro-aggressions against the poor run much deeper. This book only touches the surface of what it is like for the disadvantaged in this country. By all means, read this book...but just don't stop there. Volunteer in a soup kitchen or shelter. Sit and listen to their stories. Pay attention in the grocery store when someone uses food stamps. Look at the way other people in line scrutinize what they're buying. Listen at the doctor's office as they ask for Medicaid cards and watch how the poor person blushes and tries to hide her face. It is not a crime to be poor, and yet, we treat poor people as second class citizens. There are many reasons behind poverty, and it is very difficult to raise one's stature in life. No matter how much money is in a person's pocket, they are still a person and deserve as much respect as anyone else.
For Americans who think they understand capitalism and our economy, this book is eye opening. Barbara Ehrenreich's experiences as a hard-working, rent-and tax-paying citizen demonstrate the reality and falsehood of living the American dream.
I enjoyed this book from beginning to end. It was originally assigned as a college class read, and I was surprised and sad to see how accurate and real it is. Ehrenreich does a fantastic job of showing just how hard life can be in trying to live on minimum wage in our society. GREAT JOB!
I came across this book at our library book sale. WOW. It made me realize how lucky my own life has been. After reading about how Barbara was treated when she was dressed as a maid for a house cleaning service, I began to wonder just how these people cope with how badly they are treated.
I think that every middle class American should read this book, and think hard before they make disparaging remarks about the people less fortunate then them. I have heard people in my own family say, "tell them to get a job", while jobs are not that easy to get, and, as Barbara found out, there isn't much energy left in a day after struggling to get by....
The book that started it all! Going from low-paying job to low-paying job, author Barbara Ehrenreich shows how difficult it is to survive on the current minimum wage. Don't think low-paying means no work. Usually it's the grunt work or the work no one wants to do. It's exhausting, it's back-breaking, and sometimes it's demeaning.
A super-duper work of fact. I could not put this down, and needed to know what else Ms. Ehrenreich would have to put up with while trying to survive, undercover, in another minimum wage job. 5 Star - real life study of NOT getting by in America - the land of opportunity. It is a shameful commentary of all that is wrong with this nation - and written for all the right reasons. Get a copy, read it - and then tell everyone you know about the experiences Ms. Ehrenreich survives.
I had mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, the idea of the book is an excellent one. Not only should it be required reading for all high school students but it also provides good insight to those who have had the good fortune not to be a low-wage earner trying to get by on a meager income. When reading the book I started to do the math on how little a minimum wage job really pays. There was a time I worked those jobs (while in college) but I never had to rely on them to raise a family and support a household. I don't see how it would be possible to do so in the current economy here in Los Angeles. It was a real eye-opener for me.
On the other hand, the writer was so biased in her writing that it really ruined the second half of the book for me. Instead of a factual account, she writes the book almost from this ivory tower perspective that I found not only annoying but insulting. The writer is an academic who is outraged by the very idea of having to do *real* work. Look, I have an advanced degree too but I don't feel like I'm too good to get my hands dirty if need be - that's life! I found her tone to be one of condesending pity and by the end of the book I was ready to throw it through the window - and I'm a socially liberal Democrat. I say, read this book with a critical eye and you will get a lot of benefit out of it.
As one of the working poor in the United States who has spent a lot of the last 20 years as a server this book was so insulting I couldn't finish it. The writer is astonished that no one "finds her out" that she is just pretending to be one of us "lower class" people. She wrote about the restaurant business like they are all homeless alcoholics making $6 an hour. Obviously she just wasn't very good at it... I never made less than $25 an hour serving and not all in expensive restaurants- I made the most at an all-night diner. The book was just insulting and not done well in my opinion, it doesn't really give a clear picture and is completely false in many ways.
Not much about this book impressed me or opened my eyes. Granted, I very well may be biased as I was one of the working poor back in my younger days and though I earn somewhat more now, I'm not well off by any means, and we're still only a few paychecks away from disaster if the circumstances are right.
I don't feel that the author ever immersed herself in the lifestyle that she chose to write her next book about. She played at it, but she didn't truly live it on a daily basis. She had a debit card to fall back on and started each leg of her journey with cash. Blech. If you want to write about the animals in the zoo, become one of them.
The author seemed to take a voyeuristic approach and at times came off as very condescending when describing her jobs and her fellow employees. Sprinkled throughout the book are veiled and not so veiled remarks about minorities, those without much education, etc. The author chose Maine as one of her locations because of the 'whiteness' the state had to offer (and we're not talking about snow or the dead of winter).
I think she set herself up to fail (or was totally clueless). At one point, she needed slacks for work and chose to purchase a pair that set her back $40 with the justification that they would wear longer. Seriously? $40 was acceptable for a friggin' pair of slacks when you're trying to live as your fellow employees live on a daily basis? Why not ask them for suggestions on where to purchase work clothes? (I'll bet they would have suggested the nearest thrift store where the same slacks could have been purchased for a few dollars).
She also chose to live in a couple of hotels (granted, they weren't the Ritz) and turned down a more lucrative job because she didn't want to work 11 hours per day. Hello? She had no children in tow for this 'experiment', nor a husband or extended family. An 11 hour a day job that paid reasonably well given the time she conducted the research for this book was less enticing than how many folk work at two jobs, extending the gas budget, public transportation budget or shoe leather to work two jobs?
Her meal choices also baffled me. Take out just because you have no fridge or microwave available? Seriously? Less expensive and healthier choices would have been dried fruit, raisins, peanut butter and a loaf of bread, tuna and crackers, canned or fresh fruit (even bruised or less than fresh fruit on sale), etc.
I didn't totally hate this book, though it left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
Amanda W. reviewed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on
Helpful Score: 3
I really didn't like this book. The author seemed to have issues with minorites and while it makes for a okay story, it's a far cry from the truth. She seemed to try to make things harder for herself. It is hard to live on low wages but it is doable. I worked for Walmart for 3 years and I'll admit they do pay awful wages but I could go on and on about the difference in the book and the "real" world.
An easy read and a glimpse of how "the other half" lives, when that really means the other 2/3. It is less anthropology than writer dabbling in poverty but it does raise awareness, doesn't pretend to be actually experiencing the pains a person who has no choice experiences, and is interesting.
In 1998, policymakers in Washington applauded welfare reform policies that would transition welfare recipients into the labor market. But Barbara Ehrenreich wasnt buying the hype. How does anyone live on $6 or $7 an hour, she wondered, the typical wage paid to unskilled workers? Good question, and Ms. Ehrenreich did three months of old-fashioned" investigative journalism to find the answer. She put her comfortable lifestyle on hiatus and tried to make ends meet while working as a waitress in Key West, a maid in Maine, and a Wal-Mart associate in Minnesota. In Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Ms. Ehrenreich chronicles her heart-wrenching, stressful, and funny experiences as part of the community of the working poor.
It is one of the best arguments for a living wage ever published in this country. And for anyone who doesn't understand why poverty is a public health issue, it's a must-read.
Ms. Ehrenreichs story begins in Key West, where she takes a waitressing job making $5.15 an hour, including tips. She survives on cheap processed food, develops an aching back from spending hours on her feet, and endures verbal abuse from her manager anytime she pauses for a break. But her biggest problem, which remains her biggest problem throughout the book, is housing. Finding a safe, suitable place to live with affordable rent and a reasonable down payment is impossible. She has to tap into her savings from her past life to avoid homelessness.
The housing market in Maine isnt much better, and Ms. Ehrenreich moves into a motel, paying a cheap off-season rate. She works as a housekeeper for a sleazy corporate maid service that pays its employees a dismal fraction of what it charges customers. One of the maids, Rosalie, is a teenager who can only afford to eat a snack-size bag of Doritos to fuel her eight-hour workday. Holly, another maid, forgoes medical care that she needs after an occupational injury, and none of the staff can afford housing without pooling resources with friends or family.
In Minnesota, Ms. Ehrenreich arguably has the best job, but it is also the one that angers her the most deeply. As a Wal-Mart associate, she makes $7 an hour to sort and fold womens clothing. It is physically demanding, mind-numbing work, but it is the corporate culture that most enrages the author. Ms. Ehrenreich is disturbed by drug-testing policies, anti-union propaganda, and rules against talking with colleagues, which she views as demeaning ways to keep low-wage employees in their place. If youre made to feel unworthy enough, she concludes, you may come to think that what youre paid is what you are actually worth.
Despite the life-or-death seriousness of the subject matter, Nickel and Dimed is fast-paced and funny. It is careful to avoid condescension and classism. Ms. Ehrenreich describes her co-workers with respect, fondness, and occasionally, downright awe (in the case of a fellow maid who refuses to stop working after a nasty ankle injury). The author complains about her substandard living arrangements, her aching back, and her clueless managers, but she is well aware that her situation is temporary, unlike many others. Almost anyone could do what I did--look for jobs, work those jobs, try to make ends meet, she writes. In fact, millions of Americans do it every day, and with a lot less fanfare and dithering.
And they continue to do it. Ms. Ehrenreich did her serving in Florida, scrubbing in Maine, and selling in Minnesota between 1998 - 2000. Thats before 9/11, before the housing market crash, and before the 2008 financial crisis that toppled giant Wall Street firms. It was the height of Americas economic boom, so the author had no problem finding jobs in restaurants, hotels, and retail stores. It is sobering to imagine how difficult it would be for her to replicate this project in todays economy, where jobs are scarce. As hard as it was for Rosalie and Holly and the others in Nickel and Dimed, its likely that for many Americans, things have gotten much worse.
An investigative journalist enters the world of service work, as a waitress, a motel maid, a house cleaning service employee and as a Wal*Mart clerk. All low paying jobs and she documents how it is nearly impossible to exist on these wages... and why people stay in such jobs. Quite an eye opener.
Holly L. (irunamuk) reviewed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on
Helpful Score: 2
Great idea for a book, but the author is amazingly offensive.
"Jesus...the wine guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist"
"at the low end of the literary spectrum, which is where most of our clients dwell, I find Grisham and Limbaugh"
"worry that Latinos might be hogging all the crap jobs and substandard housing for themselves, as they so often do"
As well as virtually giving directions on how to "fudge" a clean pee sample.
Not what I was interested in reading when I picked up this book.
Unrealistic! If you work for a month anywhere it's just a beginning. You can't expect to make friends and get to know your way around a new place. Those who can't make it have numerous avenues to travel for help but you need to
be somewhere for more than a month. This author had backup many people don't.
The author raised many valuable sociological points concerning the plight of the working poor in America that makes this book a needed read for those of us in the more secure and comfortable class. As an economic experiment of trying to live off of minimum wage jobs, the experiment was so baldly flawed as to not yield any valid conclusions.
This book is a must have for any socialist or anyone who likes Michael Moore and non fictional, true to life, stories about the "working class." The journalist in question spends 3 months living life as an "average Joe" and realizes how hard life is for many people. Heart-wrenching, honest and candid without resorting to preaching or sentimentalism.
I loved this book. Ehrenrich wondered how people survived on minimum wage. "Someone ought to do the old-fashioned kind of journalism - you know, go out there and try it for themselves." The result is not only educational but very readable, as she tries to find apartments and make ends meet while waitressing, cleaning houses, and working at WalMart. ('Bait and Switch', her follow-up on the changing middle class, is great too.)
The author does a good job understanding the plight of the low income worker and the daily problems facing them. She worked in various jobs, waitress, Wal Mart, etc. in order to understand the subjects.
It's a very interesting book which gives a good perspective on the condition of the poor in the US. She makes some pretty broad conclusions on little data and spends and inordinate amount of time bashing the "wealthy" (especially considering she herself is probably wealthy). However the book is still worth reading.
The author lives in 3 parts of the US trying to live on minimum wages. She takes a job as a cleaning person, a Wal-Mart worker, and a waitress. The hours she endures at the wages she makes are UNBELIEVABLE. This book is fascinating. What a wake up call...
It's sad to know that people who work so hard for so little don't have much time freedom as they're always working. What happened to making it in America? We may have freedoms but look how much the working poor don't have and what are the rest of us doing about it? Not much. This really woke me up to what the lower income families have to go through. What a shame.
this was a difficult book to get in to because you knew the author had a way out of being "working poor". she does get the point across of the bad conditions poor americans have to endure on a daily basis.are they going to hae enough to eat,enough for the rent or get fired. sigh...i believe it is a must read,difficult as it may be.
This book is a comment on the sorry state of a huge segment of our population. Unfortunately they are still better off than many others in this richest country in the world. Ehrenreich gives the reader some insight into why people in this group more or less give up and just stumble on through life. Well-written and very interesting read.
This book was fantastic. The author takes her readers on a journey through the lives of the working poor. It's a good read for anyone. The working poor will appreciate her appreciation of them; the middle class will remember their leaner days, and appreciate what they have earned; all the rest of you will see what being poor is all about, and hopefully sympathize (and appreciate) with the working poor by the time you finish the book.
As a member of the minimum wage working class for many years, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author works undercover at low wage jobs and reveals the struggles and hardships people must endure. Lots of insight into relationships. Ehrenreigh explains why it is so hard to survive on minimum wage....ie, rent, utilities, food, child care, transportation, health care. It hit hard at home for me and made me thankful for what I have now and, especially, that I don't have to go to work anymore.
For those of us who don't personally live the life of America's working poor, this is a damning story of how our economy treats the least advantaged among us. For those of us who DO live this life, Ehrenreich's constant freedom to leave highlights the biggest difference between rich and poor: options.
Lisa L. reviewed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on
Helpful Score: 1
I highly recommend this book! This was written well before the crash and the Great Recession and Ehrenreich has an update on her blog as to the changes she has seen in these times and they are only worse than what the book reveals.
As the reader, you know this is just an experiment. As the writer, Barbara Ehrenreich knew this as well, but she does her best to disguise her real self and experience life as low income person. I found her writing sarcastic and brutally honest. Many of her thoughts and experiences are genuine. I felt these feelings as a low income factory worker myself, and I experienced many of the same scenarios in my life as a low wage earner.
Even today, with a college degree and an income that is double what I made as a factory worker, it is still a struggle to support myself and my son. There is little room for error, but at least there is a little room. This book reminded me of where I came from and how lucky I have been, but most of all it reminded me to have some compassion for those who have been trying, but continue to barely get by.
Diana D. reviewed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on
Helpful Score: 1
"Nickel and Dimed:..." is an excellent book describing how difficult it is to survive on minimum wage in this country. Not only does this author describe how difficult this was to do physically, the readers also get a sense of the emotional toll this experiment took on her. In a nutshell, the author got an assignment to go undercover as a minimum wage worker so she could truly get an idea of this lifestyle. She took jobs such as: maid, waitress and sales clerk. What ensues are descriptions of heartbreaking stories of her co-workers who either had to live with many roommates or even live in their vehicles. And these are people with jobs! Can you imagine how impossible it is to survive without a job. The author describes the desperation her co-workers felt and even her own sense of defeat and desperation even knowing that this was only temporary (the experiment lasted 3 months with one month spent in 3 cities each).
This is a very interesting book! I loved the idea that Barbara went "undercover" as a waitress, cleaning woman and Walmart employee to show how hard it is for some people in our society to get by and how unfair life in the United States can be. For anyone in this situation, it will be a confirmation that they are not the only ones. For those not in this situation, it gives a very eye-opening view to others' reality and inspires tolerance and compassion. I think this book should be required reading. Not that it is all business however. Barbara adds a poignant dose of humor and some parts are really funny. I guess she had to keep a good sense of humor to put up with some of the things she went through. 2 thumbs up.
I always knew it sucked to try and live on minimum wage. But I never realized just how much of the world is actively set against you when you're at the way-low end of the pay scale. Even if you're a committed lefty, this thing is an eye-opener.
A few years ago, I was stuck in a dead-end big -box store job and working a second shift at a convenience store. I WAS one of those "nickeled and dimed" so I was able to see what she experienced.
There were aspects about this experiment that I liked. She was able to see her co-workers as human beings and understand their plight. She befriended co-workers and got to know them on a personal level. She changed jobs often, looking for ways to make her survival easier. She showed the poor diet you are relegated to because of your slim options.
The primary aspect I did NOT like was that, at any time, she could quit her experiment and go back to her reality. My problem is that this IS the reality for so many people. They don't have the option of quitting or digging into an untouched bank account. They might have kids or other responsibilities to deal with. She had options at her disposal where these people don't. It's easier to be happy knowing that you can quit at any time when these people can't. For her is was an experiment. For us, it was survival. There is little hope like that for people stuck in these situations.
Her experience is like going to the zoo and stepping into a cage to see wild animals knowing she could leave at any time. Being stranded in the Serengeti struggling for survival is a very different experience. Her experience is helpful but not real.
Unfortunately those that can make a difference by bringing manufacturing back to the US and with it, decent paying jobs back for workers are the ones that need to read this book. And they won't.
At one time I served the public in an elite dining establishment. I found this book absolutely right on. Elite, fast food..no different. There are just some people that don't understand no matter what one does for a living we all are just trying to pay the bills the best way we can. I loved this book and could in part predict what a customer was going to do before it happened as i have had some of the stories happen to me. I laughed and cried with the author. She has gone "undercover" to write this and boy oh boy did she reveal what nastyness customers can inflict on a service person. Will make you open your eyes and maybe think the next time you get upset with a salesperson. Great read.
Lauren R. (Narnie) reviewed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on
Helpful Score: 1
I really liked this book. However, I also enjoyed a different viewpoint presented by the book "Scratch Beginnings". It is all food for thought as we address serious political actions concerning welfare, healthcare, and accountability. Both books bring me back to the conclusion that education is the solution to most of the problems facing our society today.
Like most books I've read, memoirs that is, written by journalists, the writing is flat, dreadfully devoid of emotion. Interesting, yes. Good details about what it is like to work in Walmart, for the Maids, etc. Lots of great poop there, but the lack of emotion makes this book and others like it fall short of being a really great read. At times, I was bored even and almost quit it. (I do quit books fast though.)
Ashley W. reviewed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on
Helpful Score: 1
This book is definitely illuminating for anyone who hasn't considered social justice issues or the difficulty faced by the working Americans with only a high school diploma (or less) under their belts. I was hugely disappointed with this book, however. I love the idea of Ehrenreich's "experiment" but I think the book would have carried a lot more weight if she had really committed to the piece. I'm always moved by journalists who go to great lengths to tell a story and report on segments of America that are often overlooked or simply ignored. Ehrenreich's failure to fully commit to the project just made me wish that she had left this topic to a more dedicated journalist.
This book will make you think twice about the people we see everyday who are working hard and barely getting by. The author spent a year in low-wage earning jobs (waitress, house cleaning, Wal-Mart "associate") and tried to make ends meet - not always successfully. I wish Ms. Ehrenreich had some answers though. I would also love to see an update - wondering if the working poor are even worse off today. This would be a great book for a book club to read.
I thought that the premise of this book was right on, but since it's how we live, I didn't find any of it surprising. Maybe rich snobs need to read it to see how the other half live, but I already know all about living paycheck to paycheck.
Interesting book. Should be required reading in high schools to encourage teens to get an education to get better jobs to better their lives. Describes the struggle and despair of trying to survive on America's minimum wage, no education needed wages. Good book!
Audrey J. reviewed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on
Helpful Score: 1
Barbara Ehrenreich embarks on a journey to understand the day-to-day that the working poor endure. She moves from Florida to Maine to Minnesota and works in low wage jobs such as waitress and house cleaner. I found it a facinating read - you gain a greater understanding of the challenges the working poor endure.
Perfect book for the current economic crisis. This enlightening book brings to light people and situations we either are, or walk by everyday. The working class poor are very busy people. In order to survive they've learned to juggle more than one job with family, poor housing and groceries. Health care is a luxury. Perseverence is built in to their core. Read it. and count your blessings. Then go out and tip the waitress more than 1$.
Eye-opening. I think everyone should read this book to get a better understanding of poverty and the problems faced by the working poor...and the reality that the American Dream is becoming harder to achieve as time goes by. An easy read, but thought-provoking.
Tells of a journalist's incognito trip into the world of the working poor. The author attempts and fails at trying to live off of minimum- and low-wage jobs in three different states in the USA.
If I could rewind history, I would have skipped the first 5/6 of the book, and just went right into the "Evaluation" chapter. It's the one chapter that provides a solid, substantive assessment of just how horrible capitalism has become, and illuminates the fate of all working poor folks: you're in a hole, and you're just digging it deeper. The only way to capitalize on opportunities that come your way is to have an education and some credentials...but can you rise to the occasion (that is, go back to school) without funds to buy even over-the-counter cold medicine or decent shoes for work?
The personal accounts were actually a bit of a drag. At the very least, you'll become an even greater enemy of Wal-Mart if you read this one. And you'll want to avoid hiring a cleaning service.
Recommended. I'm interested to read her second book in the same vein, "Bait and Switch."
This was a surprisingly interesting read. It is a well written and engaging personal account of a journalist's sojourn into the depths of 'working-class' America in order to meaningfully engage with the Welfare Reform debate that raged through the country during the 90's. I believe every American should read this book, if for nothing other than to make us a little more tolerant of those who share our world.
While Nickel and Dimed chronicled an important experiment, Barbara Ehrenreich was not the ideal person to conduct it. Conceived as a hypothetical study of how low-wage workers--especially women recently removed from the welfare rolls in the late 1990s--manage to survive, Ehrenreich emerges from a fancy lunch with an editor with a missive to find out. She has several self-imposed conditions: always live alone and with a car. Her reasoning: a book about waiting for buses wouldn't be interesting. This reveals the attitude which pervades through her experiences serving in Florida (waitress), scrubbing in Maine (maid service), and selling in Minnesota (Wal-Mart associate)-- an inability to shed her highly educated and classist assumptions resulting in what the New York Times Book Review described as "a deep moral outrage" on behalf of the working poor, but rubbed off as an indignation that this is happening to her. Some of the remarks are downright racist and betray a belief that she rightfully belongs to the elite side of a persistent class divide. She never really gets into her role as a migrant entry-level wage earner, with her relative lack of social connections, issues from persistent poverty, or desperation from real hand-to-mouth survival. (She decided at first not to apply to jobs with urine drug screens.) There was also relatively little time devoted to investigating how the real working poor make do. Nonetheless, Nickel and Dimed does demonstrate to all but the invisible working poor (who already knew this) that employment alone -- in the form of entry-level minimum wage labor during a time of relative prosperity -- is not sufficient for a person to balance the books in a way that allows the minimum of middle-class comforts.
This is a book that should be read by every high school person in America, especially those students who are underachieving -- a foretelling of their future if they do not work hard in school. Then once they read it someone needs to let them know that, yes, these are VERY REAL experiences for the downtrodden. I think the book should not be criticized because B.E. was not really economically challenged and could get away from the situation after she decided the experiment was over, because no one who is that poor has written any books like that to tell us about that eperience. I feel like I have lived a very little of that and I always take on 2nd and 3rd and 4th jobs to earn etra money and there is a lot of degradation in working in people's homes, cleaning their toilets and doing the work for them that they don't want to do for themselves. Also, just last night I started the book that 1700 people on this website have on their wish list -- The Help -- and these two books have lots of similiarity so far.
This is a great first-hand study of what it's like to try to live on minimum wage or less in our affluent country. It's actually pretty depressing, but eye-opening. None of the people the author encountered in the first chapter (as far as I've read so far) have been people of faith or connected with a church. I would be interested to know how that added dimension in a person's life helps them deal with their low-income situation.
While Barabar E was never REALLY in danger of becoming homeless (she could always go back to her "real" life), this book can open ones eyes to how hard it can be to survive if you are not born into money or have a way to "pull yourself up by the bootstraps". NOT everyone can do this-no matter how many times you hear that with hard work and perseverance you'll get ahead. NOT always true, and is becoming less and less true all the time. In a country where housing is not guarenteed you (unlike other countries) and one must pay for your health care, sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars (certainly thousands)it is important that more of us understand that the playing feild is not level here, no matter what we want to believe.
Shawna I. (shawnai) reviewed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on
I really loved this book. (I'm from maine) So I new all the places she went to work at. As a women who Would never have to walk a day in the shoes of a lower paid women.Chooses to so she can see what life is like for a women Nickel and Dimed.
Everyone should read this book. It is eye opening. This author (who is a reporter)goes undercover to bring us news of America's working poor-what they go through to get the low wages they earn. She tells this story with deep moral outrage. She works beside these hard working Americans and tells the story of the invisible workforce that fuels the service economy, and endows the men and women who populate it with the honor that is often lacking on the job.This book tells the story -true stories of men and women who wait tables, scrub floors, and straighten the racks at discount stores. Very enlightening.
peachesandsam reviewed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on
This was an excellent real life portrait of the working poor in America. As the result of reading this book and watching a documentary my family no longer shops at Walmart. This book is not all about Walmart, it's just a piece of this sad and compelling book that will open the eyes of the often blinded middleclass. I would recomend this book to anyone but caution readers that the author has a negative slant toward evangelical readers.
One of the few books that I have re-read. Reminds me of the television show "Undercover Boss." The author works in various low income jobs, living in poorer sections of towns, "renting a wreck" to drive. She describes first hand job situations and the heart-breaking living conditions of co-workers. Jobs included working for a Wal-Mart and a house-cleaning service. This confirms the fact that the "working poor" are often ignored and taken advantage of by bosses and corporations. A must read for everyone who cares for their fellow Americans in the work-place. CPeyton
This book gives some insight into what a struggle it is to live on minimum wage. From actually finding a job to being able to pay the rent, purchase food and have reliable transportation. Sometimes it's a real eye opener when you are given the oportunity to "peak behind the curtain", so to speak.
Millions of Americans work full-time, year-around, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich deicded to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reformm, 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-rising, and darkly funny odyssey through the underside of working America.
Rebecca - reviewed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on
This book was eye opening to the ways many Americans are forced to live. The author decided to try living on low wages of $7 an hour in three different cities. She faces difficulty finding affordable housing and quality food on her low wages. The author had the option of returning to her life when things got tough that others don't have. I wish the author had gotten the views of her colleagues on her jobs rather than just giving us her perspective. But feel she did a good job of letting the reader know what she experienced in her jobs and the difficult decisions she had to make.
The book is great. Many people live this way and are viewed as lower than snakes bellies because of their circumstances. The only fault with the book is that the author wasn't able to spend some real time trying to live this way. Her time was up when it was just in the nick of time to bail her out. Someone should try living this way in a hell on earth job for more than a month and know what it is like to live on one meal a day and that being Top Ramain noodles.
I really enjoyed this book. It was about a lady writer who goes to different areas of the United States and trys to survive on min wage jobs. It demonstrates how almost impossible it is for a person to get by on 1 job being paid min. wage.
Gives the reader a first-hand view of what it's like to be a member of working-class America. Ehrenreich works blue collar jobs in an experiment to gage whether or not workers can make a living wage in low level jobs.
Not bad. This should be required reading of anyone who has it made. I work for the federal government. 90% of my coworkers do not appreciate just how soft we have it. Reading this book provides meaning to the expression: "There by the grace of God go I". But sadly most people who do read it will not even see why a middle class is so badly needed.
Recommend if you have a spoiled child that you require he/she to read this.
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 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.
The author decided to live on minimum wage and found out how difficult it is. Every one, especially those who have good jobs, should read this book to learn about people who work hard every day and still don't have the means to feed, clothe and house their families.
tani reviewed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on
"Millions of Americans work full-time, year-round, for poverty-level wages. Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them...But how can anyone survive, let alone prosper, on six to sever dollars an hour?...[Her book] reveals low-wage America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity...Instantly acclaimed for its insight, humor, and passion, this book is changing the way America perceives its working poor."
It moves fast, once you get past the introduction, and is a real eye-opener. I'll never look at a waitress or hotel maid the same way again.
The author decides to join the working poor. She ventures on a journey to to experience low wage jobs and travels from place to place and trying to survive. Her narrative put her on the New York Times bestseller list. A must read.
A powerful snippet into the inescapable cycle of poverty. Enlightening, and certainly aimed at a white, upper-middle class, educated audience. The author makes profound discoveries while maintaining some distant ties to her privileged safety net.
I thought this book was fascinating! It gives an insight into what it is like to work in minimum wage jobs and to try to make ends meet on a less than living wage. The author spends a year in several different low-wage fields (waitressing, housecleaning, working at Walmart, etc) and she gives an honest account of the experiences, both good and bad that she takes away. A must-read for anybody fortunate enough not to have to live through this scenario in real-life. It gave me a totally new perspective.
An interesting study of being poor in America. But my only complaint is that I feel Ehrenreich was not fully submersed in this world of the low wage worker. She had a few way outs in the form of previous friends to help her, an ever-present bank account if the going got too tough, and, of course, the option to quit whenever she felt like it, which she did.
However, don't let this distract you from her stories. It is head-shaking to read how even a fairly healthy, childless, white, intelligent woman with a car can struggle making ends meet. What does that say for the immigrant, minority, and sick people with children and no car? I am sure the low wage worker is comprised of mostly people in the latter category.
Working undercover, the author travels from Florida to Maine and Minnesota. She got work as a waitress,, hotel maid, housecleaner, nursing home aide and Walmart salesperson. She discovers the "lowliest" occupation requires exhusting mental and physicxal efforts. And one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors.
A great representation of participant observation, for those who are studying some modes of program evaluation. For those interested in the class gap in America, this is a unique examination of the problem.
Not a big fan of this book. While it was a critically acclaimed book about the struggles of minimum wage workers with some eye-opening points, the author seemed to be pushing her own social agenda. One example: she balks at taking a drug test for her employer. "Why do employers persist in the practice? Probably in part because of advertising by the roughly $2billion drug-testing industry, but I suspect that the demeaning effect of testing may also hold some attraction for employers" (pg 128)
The best parts were the introduction and evaluation chapters. I wasn't impressed with the writing. Her empathy of the "working poor" did not move me as much as Morgan Spurlock's television show 28 Days, episode on poverty. Published in 2001, some of the data is out of date.
Vayacondia reviewed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on
Millions of Americans work full-time, year-round, for poverty-level wages. Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them, inspired in part by the rhetoric surroundling welfare reform, 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 Minnestoa, 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.
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.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY REVIEW
This book depressed me, it's just way to close to home for me! It makes me realize that I'm not alone in my work, financial struggles and that it could be a lot worse!!!! I still recommend it though, because it's important material -- very eye opening even though I'm down there in the lowest paid category it made an impact on me.
This was a pretty easy read, however I have worked as a sales associate and a waitress so there is nothing too shocking in this book. I was never a maid and that chapter provided some interesting stories. Still a tragic overview the American workforce and economy.
DreamSE22 reviewed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on
I thought this book was excellent and sends a great message to Americans-especially those who have never had similar jobs or who have had to really save money and know what its like to live in near-poverty. The economy really makes me sick to begin with, and this book just continued to fuel the fire for me.
I think Barbara Ehrenreich writes a great narrative, and for a current events book it flowed rather easily and nicely. I really enjoyed her humorous anecdotes throughout the book, and more specifically her segments on the Accutest (which I failed as a teenager when applying to K&B Toys), drug-testing, and of course her retail experience in Wal-Mart.
I no longer work retail but being recently layed off from a major telemarketing corporation, this book was a great refresher and motivater for what I need to mentally prepare for. Because retail plays a major role in my background experience, I've always held great respect for the sweating, hard-workers out there who are earning a pathetic hourly wage doing laborious jobs on their feet or scrubbing toilets while I sit on my behind in an office cubicle doing close to nothing. What I really want is for everyone else to read this book to get a true glimpse of what a large portion of Americans are really doing to stay afloat.
I get sick and tired of all the rude, impatient and uppity people who act condescendingly toward retail, housekeeping, and restaurant servers. When I go shopping I always make it a point to tell people in the service industry that I'm never in a hurry to get anywhere, and I'm quick to jump to their defense when snotty people get snippy with these service workers.
I really could go on and on about all the emotions I experienced when reading this book. I thought it was great!
Having worked nine years for the department of welfare I have swung from being very liberal to very conservative about the people on. Now I am more moderate. I do think a job is better than no job because I think work makes us better people. If all we do is take handouts we become bottom feeders and very lazy people. But having said that the poor true working poor need safety nets to help. Cooperations do need to look at raising salaries for the working poor even if that means they make less profits. I mean come on who need to be making 90 million in just five years? Who is worth that? A very enjoyable read.
Tim F. reviewed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on
this book and the author are both condescending turds.
I'll save you a few hours- here's the whole thing summed up in a few sentences; ready?
"Did you know that earning minimum wage isn't enough to get by in America today? The working poor are getting screwed and eek out terrible (third-world-esque) existences. Also, they're too uneducated and overworked to grasp their own situation. Thank god an upper-class twit like me, Barbara Ehrenreich, came around to shine a light on this overlooked tragedy. Just read this book if you want to eliminate a bit of your liberal guilt, and pretend that you understand some of the situations they face; then you can look them in the eye when they're cleaning your bathroom and taking care of your kids".
Great tale of trying to survive on minimum wage, not to mention the "job hunt" that comes before that! Having worked in retail (with a Master's degree under my belt!) I appreciate some of what she went through, being treated like she was "less than" everyone else just because she had a job as a housekeeper or a clerk. Highly recommended!
Writer Barbara Ehrenreich leaves behind the comforts of her middle class existence, and goes undercover as a low-wage worker. She's a waitress in Florida, a cleaning lady and nurse's aid in Maine, and a Wal-mart employee in Minnesota. This type of investigative journalism feels familiar nowadays, yet Nickel and Dimed still manages to be provoked, entertaining and relevent.
I like the idea of this book because in its own way it counteracts the TV brainwashing that you get with a B.S. show like Undercover Boss. In a show like that you see the warm-hearted, caring boss who built an entire company with nothing but his bare hands and his love of serving mankind. He then shows up incognito in his restaurant's kitchen, or on the line, or at the phones cubicles next to the unwashed masses receiving minimum wage who seem almost determined to avoid his generous policies and disregard his clearly-dictated protocols. Sniff, sniff, those poor CEOs -- doesn't anyone out there understand their pain?
I read this years ago and there is an even greater need for a book like this after the 2007/2008 economic disasters George w. Bush inflicted upon this country (stock market dropped from a high of over 15,000 to the 7,000s -- feel free to look it up).
Since the Bush economic collapse (which we have not as of yet fully recovered from and likely never will), the vast majority of stock market profits have gone to the wealthiest 1% (and they're paying less of a tax rate then you are), so if you don't think the system is broken and geared toward keeping them rich and you closer and closer to minimum wage, it is.
However, we deserved a better book on this subject of the undercover employEE.
This book is repetitious, the author a little self-aggrandizing, and it doesn't do the thing our collected exploited workers out there desperately need most: suggest real ways to fix the corporatized mess we now face everywhere and in every market sector.
For example, the author could have looked at other countries. In France they still have some employee rights and anyone who secretly places a video cameras in the workplace will be prosecuted. Something to think about, here in the land of the free (...free to be videotaped, recorded, fired at will...).
I consider this book to be a good effort, with the author's heart in the right place, but it's not the definitive work.
I read this book twice, once for myself, and a year or so later, when it was chosen by my book club. An eye opener - or maybe not if you are one of those trying to make a living and supporting a family on minimum wage. Walmart, waitressing, working in a nursing home, working for a house cleaning service - were all explored by Barbara Ehrenreich. A realistic view of living from paycheck to paycheck.
First impression: Wow! What arrogance!!! I completely understand that the intention of this book is to open the publics eyes to the plight of those on welfare and/or what is now commonly known as the wage slave. Howevercan we say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions since Im under the impression that a good portion of this book took shape to boost Barbara Ehrenreichs ego. In fact, throughout the first 20 pages the reader will find references to Ms. Ehrenreichs education, vanity, and even indignation. All of this lessens as the book goes on, but does not disappear completely.
Nevertheless, this experiment began in 1998 and published in 2001. It took place in three states: Florida, Maine and Minnesota. It took place in only three months out of two years and not consecutively either! Yes; that meant only one month as a waitress, a maid and nursing home kitchen aid, and a Wal-mart employee.
With what I can only guess was extreme prejudice, Barbara Ehrenreich did not succeed in matching a low wage income to actual living expenses. In Florida, she ultimately quit the better paying waitressing job after being fed up with a particularly brutal day. In fact, she just walked out and did not even give two weeks notice. In Maine, she tried babying her supervisor, was switched to another team and then quit. At the nursing home she imagined that the weekend crew ganged up on her to orchestrate their sick days. On her departure she simply says, I work one last day at the Woodcrest and then call in sick. (119) In Minnesota, who knows if she made it through a month since she couldnt find anywhere she wanted live which was one of her self-imposed escape hatch rules.
In the final chapter, entitled Evaluation, she surmises that the working poor will one day rise up and demand better pay. And she was correct it did happen by way of Occupy Wall Street in 2011, which did nothing to stop foreclosures of family homes or help create and/or maintain jobs.
On the most personal note: Barbara Ehrenreich states she purposely decided against going to New York and one of her reasons what that a white woman with unaccented English seeking entry-level jobs might only look desperate or weird. (7) Yes; racist moreover it is too bad she didnt because jobs in NY or L.A. might have paid more. Case and point, on the very bottom of page 115 she disparages a woman for leaving The Maids for Dunkin Donuts. My first job was at a Dunkin in 1996 while in High School. Most important: It paid about $6.25 with tips and free food while working. The pay was $2 over minimum wage! The food perk meant free lunch and/or breakfast, which included more than donuts and coffee think sandwiches, soups, rolls, croissants, bagels, and drinks too. She wrote that being a Maid made one invisible to the world. Again, not the case in NY and an example is one of my bosses in Long Island who not only had maid service their relationship was good enough to joke about whether or not he was gay! (She is, in fact, a lesbian.)
Now onto the more psychotic note: While reading I started taking post it notes and tagged things I wanted to comment on. When writing - realized it was turning into a 10 page report, which brought me back to the thought that I cheated too. This book was originally picked up as required reading for a class and I must have just glanced at it. It seemed an easy enough and intriguing read and I swore to come back to it. So, Ill have to forgive Barbara Ehrenreich for breaking the rules she placed upon herself before and during this experiment.
Brigitte F. reviewed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on
We read a selection from this book for one of my social work classes and I was so impressed that I decided to read the book in its entirety. Ehrenreich's experience as a member of America's working poor challenges the notion that people are poor because they are lazy and refuse to get a job. On the contrary; this book proves how hard poor people need to work just to survive. I highly recommend this book.
Well written and interesting, this book brings home the struggle of a vast number of Americans and makes it real. No longer statistics, it brings us into the daily life of the millions of stuggling workers. Although it was written ten years ago, it's even more important today. I wish every elected official and corporate executive would read this-especially the ones who feel raising taxes on the poor is a good idea.
Interesting premise, but falls short in implementation. I think the author proves the point that she can't live on a minimum job wage, but I never get the feeling she was integrated into the process, she seemed like a casual observer, at times mocking the system. It didn't appear she had any idea how much trouble she could cause talking about a union for her coworkers at Walmart; they depend on the job and income, she doesn't. Overall an interesting read.
Heloise reviewed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on
From the book cover: Millions of Americans work full-time, year-round, for poverty-level wages. Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them, to see how anyone can survive, let along prosper, on six to seven dollars an hour. She took the cheapest lodgings available and accepted work as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing home aide, and Wal-Mart salesperson. This book will change the way America perceives its working poor.
Ehrenreich is a woman who goes out of her way to bash America and the American dream. All the while, she had a safety net on this ridiculous journey. There is nothing realistic about her staged journey. It is about as real as reality television.
She truly has NO clue what it is like to be poor, and she surely does not have any clue of what it takes to claw your way out of that situation...a feat that ANYONE with the desire and drive can do. However, with books like hers, anyone who is in a poverty situation can use her staged situation as an excuse to sit around and blame rather than fix it.
Nothing like an author that intentionally inspires sloth, poor choices, blaming others, and poverty.