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Nickel and Dimed: on (Not) Getting by in America Hardcover – 31 May 2001


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Hardcover, 31 May 2001
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 221 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Company Inc; First Edition edition (31 May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805063889
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805063882
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.2 x 21.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,135,191 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Essayist and cultural critic, now author of Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich has always specialised in turning received wisdom on its head with intelligence, clarity and verve.

With some 12 million women being pushed into the labour 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 six to seven USD 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 USD 675 per month. In Maine, where she ends up working as both a cleaner 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 behaviour 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 people who brought us welfare reform?" No, 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 ends up in a shelter.

As Ehrenreich points out with her potent combination of humour and outrage, the laws of supply and demand have been reversed. Rental prices skyrocket, but wages never rise. Rather, jobs are cheap in comparison to 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.

Review

'A superb book' -- Decca Aitkenhead, Guardian

'An extraordinary Orwellian testimony to how tough American working life is for the bottom 20 per cent' -- Will Hutton

'An extraordinary achievement...surely one of the most gripping political books ever written' -- Observer

'Brilliant, gripping and extraordinarily timely, this is a book about collective blindness that will change the way you see' -- Naomi Klein

'This book is about the kinds of relationships we have with other human beings...a book that must be read' -- Geoff Dyer, Independent on Sunday

'This is a book about collective blindness that will change the way you see' -- Naomi Klein, author of No Logo

'We have Barbara Ehrenreich to thank for bringing us the news of America's working poor.' -- New York Times Book Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A. Somerville on 13 Aug. 2002
Format: Paperback
Nickel and Dimed is a description of the author's temporary life at or below the poverty line in different jobs in 3 US cities. The book is actually quite short but packs in a fair amount of description, background facts and personality.
I have read some harsh criticisms of the book. However, the author was aware of many of these problems and she does not hide her faults. She is only 'visiting' the world of the poor, she does write more about herself than those she meets and she does make some decisions that, in some cases, make her ordeal needlessly worse whilst others make it easier.
Accept her failings as she does, and read a book that says a lot about US society and has many points that are transferable to the UK.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Graceann Macleod on 17 May 2009
Format: Paperback
Barbara Ehrenreich goes undercover as an entry-level worker to determine whether or not she can make it on the wages paid to the majority of American employees. She freely admits that she is only dipping a toe into the experience - she will not be homeless, she will have a vehicle, and of course she knows that at the end of the month she will be able to go back to her regular life. The goal is to see if she can earn enough from her various jobs (a waitress, a maid and a clerk in a department store, respectively) to feed herself, house herself and save enough money for the next month's rent. She is healthy and single with no dependent children, and has no chemical dependency issues weighing her down, and even with these advantages, and in a job market that was plentiful compared to the current one, she finds that she is unable to manage it.

I am unable to call this book eye-opening, because I know just how difficult it is to make ends meet, and I was working in what is rather condescendingly referred to as the "pink collar" sector. Even with my "middle-class" earnings, I was never more than a paycheck or two away from being in real financial trouble, and I did NOT live lavishly by any stretch of the imagination. It is no surprise to me at all that $6-8.00 per hour is not enough to keep body and soul together. Especially in America, where necessities of life (health care, food, housing) are, for some people, luxuries, this is a frustrating situation.

What Ehrenreich does is open her own eyes to the drudgery and difficulty of daily life in this grind. She has no pat answers for solving the deeply-entrenched problems that the working poor face; she is only able to shed a light on them.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By V. K. Borooah on 20 July 2001
Format: Hardcover
If you have read, and liked, George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London then this is a book for you. The author writes engagingly and informatively on what it is like to part of America's "working poor" and, in the process, punctures a number of middle-class prescriptions for, and misconceptions about, the poor. Why do the poor eat junk food? Because they don't have the facilities - kitchen, pots, cooker - to make lentil soup. Why do the poor live in hotel rooms paying $60 per night? Because they don't have the money for the deposit on the rent of an apartment. Housing always emerges as the single biggest obstacle in the lives of low-paid employees. Did you know that many low-paid employees ($6-$7 per hour) live in their cars and vans? That a perk of a waitress' job with a hotel was permission to park her van-cum-home in the hotel car park? This book is in the best tradition of writing with a social conscience -it does not beatify the poor, nor does it regard them as unter-menschen. Indeed, the messsage that I, surrounded by my bourgeois comforts, took away was: "There but for the grace of God.." If you are not averse to this genre, then you should read this book - it is among the best of this type of writing.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Keith Appleyard VINE VOICE on 13 July 2002
Format: Paperback
I regularly work in the USA, and when I mentioned this book to 10 or so US colleagues over dinner in Minneapolis last week, only 1 person had heard of it, which exemplifies the fact that Middle Class America have little consciousness of the realities of the 'slaving classes'. This book does not go into a detailed damnation of the 'system' in the way that 'No Logo' does, but it offers well-written personal recollections of times spent in 3 locations, Florida, Maine & Minneapolis (hence why I asked my dinner companions if they'd heard of it). Even though I consider myself 'socially aware' it gave me further insight into the circumstances of those around me in hotels & restaurants, and reconfirmed my already low opinion of the inequalities in US society. I noticed that the US Minimum Wage is $5.15, and hasn't been changed for 5 years (ie since 1997); contrast that with the UK Minimum Wage of around $6, which has been increased every year since its introduction, even if only by 10p/15c per hour.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 29 Jan. 2005
Format: Paperback
First, I must say that, for all its faults, this is a book worth reading. It needed to be written, and I applaud the author for doing what she did-an attempt to support herself on minim wage jobs for a year. She shares many telling details of life among the desperately poor, including the highly questionable practices of such employers as Merry Maids and Wal-mart. She makes astute observations regarding human behavior and quality of life in this under-studied group of Americans.
I do, however, have some serious gripes with Ehrenreich's book. Mainly, I feel that she weakened her own arguments by her inability to stick to her subject. Ehrenreich takes frequent detours onto topics that are not really related to being poor.
Ehrenreich is, in fact, experiencing at least two kinds of culture shock in the course of her experiment. The first culture shock, which she recognizes and intends to write about, is going from her upper middle class income to at or near poverty level. The second, equally significant culture shock, of which she seems only dimly aware, is going from a self-employed journalist to a wage-earner.
In order to achieve maximum impact with her book, Ehrenreich needs to stick to the topics specific to poverty, because this is what she purports to be writing about. However, she continually branches off into complaints involving issues that are true of _many_ wage-earners at all economic levels. These two states-poverty and wage earner-are _not_ the same. Ehrenreich, however, doesn't seem to make the distinction.
For instance, she spends considerable time griping about "chemically Nazi America." She feels that drugs should be legalized and is very angry that she must undergo drug testing.
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