Nickel and Dimed

Nickel and Dimed

On (not) Getting by in America

Book - 2001
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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.
Publisher: New York : Metropolitan Books, 2001
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780805063882
Characteristics: 221 p. ; 22 cm


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ArapahoeHollyR Aug 29, 2017

Not your usual story of the working poor in America, Ehrenreich's book chronicles her experiences of a self-imposed social experiment in which she tried to live on a minimum wage job. Her account is honest and often shocking as she details labor abuses and the daily struggles of extreme poverty.

Mar 27, 2017

Nickel and Dimed is an eye opening book about the plight of the working poor in our country. Barbara Ehrenreich, a writer with a PhD goes undercover as a minimum wage worker in Maine, Florida, and even Minneapolis. The author gives specific details about the lives of her co-workers, but protects their identities with fake names. This narrative is a continuation of the muckraking movement starting in the Progressive era. This movement entails journalists investigating large corporations to reveal dark secrets. There were a few things that took away from the overall effectiveness of the novel. It was published in 2001, and much of the information and statistics referenced are from the 1990s. Additionally, Ehrenreich admits to making many mistakes during the experiment that impacted the outcome. On a more positive note, it was very interesting to learn about the working poor right here in the Minneapolis area. The most eye opening thing that I took away was that there are many people working multiple jobs that still struggle to make ends meet. This book inspires the reader to be grateful for what they have. The author discusses the changes this book has sparked, like demonstrations on college campuses. This thought provoking book has themes that will be relevant in our culture indefinitely.

Mar 27, 2017

My general idea of this book is Undercover Boss or Secret Millionaire, but covers the aspect of minimum wage and the working conditions. I personally wish the author would have done a little bit more research on which jobs to work at because the story has a very biased tone to it. It has some passive aggressive comments about race and religion that really was not needed in the context of the experiment. It's also less applicable because of the time period it takes place, because a lot has changed since the 90's. I wish the story would have expanded much more on the rights of it's workers and why workers need them, but it also doesn't help that it is essentially just a series of complaints. Overall, it was well written and interesting to read, on account of the insights of the author, but generally things became repetitive once they hit Maine. The concept is rather intriguing to read about, but it could almost be summed up in the TV shows mentioned earlier, because much of the detail is not needed, where it expands upon things that do not need to be, and leaves things that would be interesting to know, very brief; for example, the other workers. The majority of the experiment, even as the author says herself, was a social experiment. However, she takes little time to focus on it, and rather talks about the conditions of the workplace. It was overall a good book, but it could have been much more balanced.

May 08, 2016

We all know, but we don't really know, do we? NICKEL AND DIMED is about the working poor, that most confusing class of poverty. Author Barbara Ehrenreich captures the experience of not making it by in America so explicitly you want to cry. And it's not reserved to one little pocket of the country, either. No, Barbara faces humiliation first as a waitress in Key West, Florida; then as a housemaid in rural Maine; and, finally, as a Walmart employee in Minnesota. At the low end of the totem pole, you are forced to degrade yourself, picking up after others, scrubbing away their feces, while always being suspected of drug abuse by altogether useless supervisors and managers. The goal was simply to see if one could make a second month's rent on these ghastly wages, but what Barbara learned was that there are more problems living this way than financial. There are the psychological effects of being subjugated and never praised, being told when and if you can pee, along with the glares and whispers in the supermarket after your shift finally ends. There are physical demands taking a toll on an undernourished body, forced to inhale god knows what with a rash on your elbow and no life insurance while you pop Advil like Tic Tacs before upgrading to Aleve to handle the aches and pains of not being allowed to sit. These are the kind of things that keep you up at night. NICKEL AND DIMED exposes these industries as unkind and unsustainable, killing those who agree to work for them and scaring away the rest. I highly recommend that everyone read this book.

May 12, 2015

Author stretched the truth big-time. Most of these jobs I held in the past. Never, I mean never did I have a problem finding affordable lodging.

Jun 04, 2014

An oftentimes humorous journey through three towns and the minimum wage jobs the author works there in an attempt to balance income and expenses on minimum wage. Assigned summer reading for students of AP Language and Composition at Millard South High School.

Mar 31, 2013

This book gives a very negative bias opinion on the subject matter. Was required to read it in college and hated every page!

Jun 24, 2012

This book is well-written account of an undercover journalist's journey into the world of the working poor. At times, the tone is biting and sarcastic. More often, it is sincere and sympathetic as Ehrenreich recounts her experiences working an array of low-paying jobs.

neko Dec 23, 2009

proposed title for July 2010

Nov 18, 2009

The working poor


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Jun 04, 2014

Other: Barely mentions drug use. Refers to it as a "chemical indiscretion" Seeks out a detox system prior to taking a drug screening for a job.

Feb 10, 2011

Sexual Content: References to drug use. (Not sexual content, but I thought readers should be warned).


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Jun 04, 2014

I suggest that what we need is a union, but from the look on his face I might as well have said gumballs or Prozac.

Jun 04, 2014

Once I stand and watch helplessly while some rug rat pulls everything he can reach off the racks, and the thought that abortion is wasted on the unborn must show on my face, because his mother finally tells him to stop.


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Feb 10, 2011

imaginethat thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


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samccann Apr 26, 2011

This is a fantastic book that everyone should read. It shows the struggles of trying to get by in the U. S. and trying to live on low wages

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