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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short but worthwhile examination of USA's underside
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...
Published on 13 Aug. 2002 by A. Somerville

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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars confusing the issue
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...
Published on 29 Jan. 2005 by Amazon Customer


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short but worthwhile examination of USA's underside, 13 Aug. 2002
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
5.0 out of 5 stars What you Get Out of It Depends on What You Bring to it, 17 May 2009
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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. What emerges in her occasionally witty, always gritty prose is confirmation of what I experienced as a worker - even on the somewhat higher rung that I occupied; if you're not one of the top 2%, you're invisible and expendable. It's this attitude that helped me make my decision to leave the United States for more civilized climes, and I have never regretted that choice.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The US version of Down and Out in Paris and London, 20 July 2001
By 
V. K. Borooah (Belfast, Northern Ireland) - See all my reviews
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Small Change..., 26 Feb. 2011
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Barbara Ehrenreich has written a classic account of life in America's underclass, the people who are all around us, whose lives are rarely considered by the ones to whom they serve. The book was written in 2001, and is much more relevant today, as increasing numbers of people join that underclass due to the "free markets" catastrophic failures which culminated in a near global financial meltdown. It required a few trillion dollars of "welfare" to bail out the banks and Wall Street, who apparently have learned nothing. If only a few "crumbs" had been tossed the way of the waitresses and other low-end services workers that are now being laid off.

For most of a year Ehrenreich attempted to join the underclass. She took low-paying jobs as a waitress in Key West, Florida, a maid in Maine, and worked as a Wal-Mart "associate" in Minnesota. She also did a stint as a nursing home aide. Her chronicle of those efforts mainly concentrates of the sheer economic impossibility of doing low-pay work, and having even the barest modicum of a decent life (and yes, forget about health insurance, so one is always truly, living "on the edge.") Her job changes over the year limited her ability to develop true relationships with her co-workers, but there are those occasional snippets of insight from their lives, and I thought the portion where the maids really did not clean the houses of the upper class, as they should, particularly noteworthy for the small acts of defiance from America's "lumpenproletariat."

Ehrenreich efforts are flawed, as she partially admits in the book. First of all, she never really was part of the "down and out" workers, say, in the sense of Jean Genet or George Orwell or Henry Miller, who were not pretending, and therefore were able to render truer accounts. And, as she readily discovers, being white, and speaking good English was an effective barrier to low-paying job entry in many parts of the country; hence her relocation to Maine to become a maid. Even by her own standards, she could not really stay within the economic parameters she set; but to me that only underscored the lives of quiet desperation that these people live. And most importantly, and a point she down-plays, mentally she always knew she could "pull the ripcord," and bail out, and even if she managed to make it the entire year, there was a definite end point. And her education gave her a broader perspective, and she would never have internalized that her life was part of the natural order of things.

Numerous 1-star reviewers went after her, primarily for questioning the "natural order of things" business. Generally these reviewers ranted about "liberalism," sometimes coupled with true accounts of the "lottery winners" who had pulled themselves up by "their own bootstraps." A more serious review denounced her for "tourism" of the underclass, and indeed, in part, it was, for reasons I outlined in the above paragraph. For the flaws in her approach, maybe even she would give herself a 4-star evaluation. However, like so many of her class, she could have confined her tourism to Provence or the game parks of Africa. The fact that she did not, and really "walked the walk" in the low-pay jobs, has given us all a greater understanding, and more importantly, empathy, for those who serve us, and thus she deserves a solid 5-stars.

Finally, nickels and dimes are indeed small change. But for those of us who voted for change in the last election, yes, questioning the "natural order of things" that so-called "free markets" provide; it seems that is all we received - nickels and dimes, small change.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on December 11, 2009)
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars USA should increase the Minimum Wage to at least $6 asap!, 13 July 2002
By 
Keith Appleyard "kapple999" (Brighton, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The ugly devotion to the dollar of Corporate America, 18 Sept. 2013
By 
Philip Mayo - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Nickel and Dimed (Paperback)
Good book. Held my interest and attention throughout. The "American Way" , i.e. Corporate America, is again shown in its true light with all its ugly devotion to the dollar. Why do the low earners put up with this? It seems one reason keeps popping to the surface as the main contender. The American poor accept this incredibly divided society because they feel that someday they will make it to the "rich" side. Of course the chance of this happening is akin to their winning the lottery. Poor and brainwashed. A book which should be read by all naive souls who consider America to be the "land of Opportunity" and also by all naive souls who think that the business classes have even the remotest concern for the welfare of their staff or of their customers. Nope - the dollar is the only objective; the only objective - got it ??
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5.0 out of 5 stars Depressing But Importand Read, 19 Feb. 2013
By 
Charles - See all my reviews
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Both England and America have a phenomena know as the working poor, these are people that work one or more jobs yet still cannot make ends meet.

This book was written by a journalist investigating what's it like to be a low pay worker in America.

The author took various low paying jobs and tried to survive on the wages and had a very tough time.
Jobs such as cleaning turn out to be very demanding physically leaving the workers with permanent damage to their bodys. The cleaning company charged $25 per person hour but only pays the worker $6.65 per hour.

The high cost of housing and low pay means workers cannot just give up their current job and look for another as they will not be able to pay their rent while looking for a job.

Other low pay workers cannot afford health care to fix heath problems, the health problems then cause them to lose their jobs and get even poorer.

Poor public transport in many parts of America means if you cannot afford a car you choice of jobs is limited to your local area only making the choice of work for the poor worse.

It comes obvious that been poor in America actually traps people when vital needs such as health care and transportation are only for people that can afford it. No wonder social mobility in America is so bad and the poor have decreased in wealth in the last 30 years while the rich have gotten even richer.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Nickel and dimed, 26 May 2014
By 
Clare O'Beara - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Nickel and Dimed (Paperback)
This journalist, presenting herself as a woefully unskilled home-maker returning to the job market, spent three months, each month in a different city, trying to earn enough to live.

Barbara found that the basic jobs of fast food preparation and waitressing, clothing store assistant, cleaner, care home worker and so on were tiring, heavy and poorly paid. As someone who needed to find accommodation she spent wages on motel rooms which did not have a kettle or fridge, or any means of cooking. So she had to buy cooked food and she set a teabag in ice cubes overnight to make iced tea for morning.

Overall Barbara found that it took two jobs minimum to live indoors. A third job was required if you wanted to buy reduced price clothes on the Wal-Mart sales rack. Many co-workers were in such straits as living in a car, unable to take a day off to go to a dental checkup because they would lose pay, having to take a job with a meal and uniform provided. These were mature people with no hope of improvement. There was also almost nothing to do for free or cheap on a Sunday, except go to a church or church-run social event in one town.

This book is well written and very readable, occasionally hilarious but often saddening. We should all read it and ask why we value workers so poorly, or allow big stores and chains to value their skills so poorly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy read on worthwhile subject., 15 Feb. 2008
Giving up a comfortable life to research on the job, her only income her wages, sampling motel living with kitchen facilities comprising the local 7-11 microwave. Barbara Ehrenreich turns her hand to Fast Food, Maid Service and WalMart. Revealing the true horror that is the existence of the low wage worker: No health insurance /No union/No dignity.
Another great expose of those wicked multinational corporations and their exploitation of the masses in general, both workers and customers.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars confusing the issue, 29 Jan. 2005
By 
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. This would, perhaps, make a suitable topic for another book, but it is _not_ an experience specific to minimum wage workers. Drug testing is very common among many classes of wage earners in America-a fact that she briefly acknowledges, but then goes right on to speak about at length. Ehrenreich is angered particularly because she has been using marijuana and must undergo a self-imposed cleansing before she can pass the test. This, again, is not an issue specific to minimum wage earners. She is confusing her issue and giving her opponents ammunition-something I find distressing, because I do sympathize with her purported topic.
Another item Ehrenreich finds infuriating is that she's not allowed to curse at work. Ehrenreich does not seem to realize that, as a journalist, she is in a very linguistically privileged class of workers. Even most self-employed people can not afford to use lots of four-letter words in the course of their business day if they wish to maintain their clientele, and most wage earners at any level will find foul language frowned up at work. Journalists have a linguistic freedom that goes well beyond most other Americans at work. This is not closely related to the plight of minimum wage workers.
Aside from her periodic forays into matters non-poverty-related, the other serious flaw in the book is that it makes no attempt to address the most serious argument against raising minim wage-how will you keep all other costs of living from not simply escalating as well? Without at least attempting to answer this question, I feel that the book's conclusion lacks conviction and punch. This is too bad, because the topic is important, and the observations in the book are worth reading-so long readers are willing to sift the material with a critical eye.
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Nickel and Dimed
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (Paperback - 5 Aug. 2010)
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