Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Book Review: Nickel and Dimed

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in AmericaNickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can't remember who recommended this to me, but it took me a while to find. It has been on my list because the idea of a skilled print journalist going undercover, into the trenches of workers who are paid minimum wage, and being challenged to live off a meager wage is enticing to me. I also wondered if maybe I could find some tips! Not that we live on minimum wage, but that maybe the book would impart some lessons in minimalism.

Boy was I wrong. This book did not serve as a "how-to" on surviving on minimum wage. During the course of her experiences working as a diner waitress, hotel room cleaner, seniors home waitress, Wal-Mart employee and maid, she did not live well. She often had two jobs at a time, ate nutritionally terrible meals (often because she could not afford lodgings with fridges and stoves), was physically exhausted, and was forced to quit several times when she ran out of money.

The degradation she suffered, the terrible illnesses and physical injuries her coworkers worked through (because they couldn't afford even a day off), the unsafe living conditions she could barely afford painted an ugly and depressing picture.

Her clear and clever writing serve her well in dispelling many of the assumptions she had previously made about workers fresh from welfare: they make poor choices, they eat terribly, they waste money on drugs and booze. She writes that in her experiences, she worked among extremely hard-working people who often gave their employers far more than $7/hour was ever worth, for fear of having to find another job, relocate, or go on welfare.

I came away from this book with an incredible depth of gratitude for the education I have. I also am grateful for the living situation I've been afforded not because my family members made better choices than anyone else but because hard work through many generations has led me to live a little easier than did the last.

I also appreciate the great lengths and personal sacrifices the author went through to maintain a level of objectivity and authenticity. She could have tapped into her savings account numerous times for that "one leg up", i.e., just to get one night's dinner or just to get one safe apartment. She didn't, and that tells more than her words ever could in the condition of the working poor.

I highly recommend this book to anyone-- there is a lesson in it for anyone, from any walk of life.

View all my reviews

1 comment:

  1. sounds really interesting, I will check this one out for sure.


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