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13 of 13 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

18 of 21 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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5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant and view changing read, 21 Feb 2012
This review is from: Nickel and Dimed (Paperback)
Such an eyenopening read, read this for research into the equality element of my employment law module but would have read it anyway. Fascinating and author combines story of her experience with wider bakground facts and statistics. Very easy to read and so eye opening. Sad at times but a true illustration, which I'm sure has worsened since publishing
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5.0 out of 5 stars Why I bought and read this book, 14 May 2011
This review is from: Nickel and Dimed (Paperback)
I read on BookBrowse that Nickel and Dimed was on the list of the most "banned books" this year. I was curious to see why. There's nothing about this book that needs or warrants banning. It's social journalism/activism at its best.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Over-ambitious, but very readable, 16 Jan 2003
By A Customer
This is a well researched and hugely readable look at low wage America. Ehrenreich is not the first or only writer to have swapped lifestyles to sample drudgery for a while - think George Orwell and Polly Toynbee - but it is relevant and absorbing none the less.
It's perfectly possible to come to this book disagreeing with the author's political assumptions and still be made to think about your own. The loosely regulated US economy has given America lower unemployment and much greater prosperity than sclerotic Europe. But you still need writers like Ehrenreich to remind you of the human cost of this - the people that fall by the wayside. After reading this book you will never not tip a waitress in an American diner, no matter how bad the service .
Ehrenreich describes setting herself up as a waitress in Florida, a cleaner in Maine, and shop assistant in Minneapolis. The artificiality of this is a problem. Most people - even in the US - don't just switch cities like this every few months. But the sheer difficulty of getting a home/job/healthcare in a new place is illuminating.
A bigger flaw - and one for which the author has received plenty of flack - is the whole presumption of a highly educated writer presuming to be able to ingest the experience of a wholly different existence in a few months. This is less of a problem than it seems as Ehrenreich is perceptive enough to overcome this. But her continual whining that she - with her PhD, that no-one is allowed to know about! - has to take part in mind-numbing corporate induction exercises - grates a little after a while. You wonder whether she was really cut out for this investigative lark.
In some ways the book loses a little of its bite after the initial, gruelling, chapter on waitressing. Ehrenreich's cleaning and shop-working jobs are better paid and, to her surprise, she even finds she gets quite good at them, to the extent that her bosses keep trying to promote her. This obviously weakens her argument about the misery of these places. But the overall effect is still quite powerful.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How the Working Poor Are Abused, 10 May 2004
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
"How does anyone live on the wages available to the unskilled?" That's the fundamental question that Dr. Ehrenreich set out to answer by living as an unskilled person in Key West, Portland Maine, and Minneapolis. Basically, she couldn't make it work very well at all, despite having many advantages over the typical worker in these jobs. Along the way, she meets many people who make it work better, but are still being ground down by their fragile economic and work status.
This book reminds me of the classic sociological exposes where the author set out to try the role of the downtrodden on for size. Her conclusion is that "no job, no matter how lowly, is truly unskilled." These are hard jobs. Despite her association with wanting to be a pleasant, helpful person, Dr. Ehrenreich soon begins to see customers as the enemy in her service jobs. Interestingly, her co-workers can keep a friendly, cooperative attitude better than she can.
Although there is anger in her report, there is also much humor (often aimed at herself and the managements of the companies involved) and praise for her "unskilled" colleagues as they cope with housing and medical costs that soar much more rapidly than their wages in an America where income and wealth are growing best for the richest and most well educated.
Her rules for this experiment were simple. She would not use her educational skills, she would take the highest paying job offered to her, and find the cheapest place to live. Unlike many poor people, she started off with enough cash to make down payments and place security deposits on apartments. She also could rent a car, so she had more choices of places to live and work. She did not have children with her, as many "unskilled" new workers coming off of welfare do. Despite her best intentions, she bent all of these rules. You would have done the same. She lived in some pretty scary places, and probably placed her life more at risk than this book indicates. We should all be grateful for her courage and her willingness to share what she learned in such an accessible and interesting form.
Based on her experiences and what people told her who were her co-workers, it is only possible to succeed with these jobs if you hold at least two of them. You also have to have some way to get between the two jobs, and some method of finding an inexpensive place to live. Your best bet is to share housing with friends or relatives. You won't have access to the time and information to find a better job very easily, and will find yourself worn down by the constant surveillance, high workloads, and physical demands of your work.
One of the most interesting parts of the book is that she raises the question of whether the currently free market for labor is the best approach. There are other costs. Turnover is high in these jobs, and supervisory costs are also high. If people liked the jobs and stayed longer, profits would be higher and costs lower. In some jobs, it was typical for people to leave after only one day. Also, there are social costs in terms of children who don't get help, medical needs that are untreated, and criminal behavior that is encouraged.
The problems described here seem to be typical for restaurant, "unskilled" health care, retailing, cleaning, and lodging workers. The number of these jobs will keep growing.
I hope that people who own or manage businesses will take the time to consider how they can redesign jobs in order to pay better wages to "unskilled" people, so that a living wage is available. I also hope that the same consideration will be provided for these workers as for the scarce technical talent that is so often wooed.
Also, think about how you treat such workers when you are a customer for these services. How can you be more considerate?
Uphold dignity, respect, and opportunity for each person!
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the BEST Books I’ve Read, 19 Mar 2004
Imperial Topaz (Marrakesh, Morocco) - See all my reviews
I thought this book was absolutely fantastic. I found it an easy, five-hour read of 221 pages. The negative reviews of this book, I believe, are coming from two sorts of people. First are those who wish the book to be something it is not. This book is NOT attempt to be a serious, sociological study. It is only what its author purports it to be—the experiences of ONE reporter, making three reasonable attempts, in three vastly different locales, to live at a minimally acceptable standard on the salaries offered in low-wage service positions.
Other criticisms of this book came from those who felt the author was a left-wing extremist, against the rich, advocating transfer payments from rich to poor. A few people ranted and raved, in their reviews, about what “solutions” she was advocating. I think these people didn’t read very carefully. I did not find her advocating any solutions at ALL, only bringing up the dilemmas, and posing questions that we should ALL be posing. But to accuse the author of advocating things which she did not say, is akin to putting words in her mouth, by some people who literally feel threatened by anyone who asks the questions she poses!
The most overwhelming feeling I got from reading her book was of HOW RICH I AM (and I’m an American living in a third-world country)! Anyone who is feeling the least bit sorry for themselves in this life should read this book, and they will IMMEDIATELY feel better. Mainly, just having good food to eat every day, and being able to pay for medical, or dental, care whenever I need it is a true luxury that we all forget about, as well as having a comfortable roof over my head. We are all guilty of taking these things so much for granted, when we have them.
The most important conclusion the author draws in this book is that low-wage jobs are so far out-of-whack with the costs of housing, and that this is what is just killing people, and keeping them barely surviving. She shows how this situation has gotten worse in recent years. It is certainly true that most people in low-wage jobs are working two jobs to make ends meet. I know this from personal experience. My husband, a foreign immigrant to America for a time, worked in a hotel cleaning rooms. He was the ONLY person who did not go to a second job at the end of an 8-hour shift (as we fortunately didn’t NEED him to do that). What this author, and most Americans, may not realize however, is that this is NOT just an AMERICAN problem. It is true that the more socialistic countries in Europe “distribute the wealth” to lower-income persons. But they are about the ONLY countries in the world that do (Canada may also). In MOST countries of the world, salaries are FAR out-of-whack with housing costs. And the disparity if FAR worse than in America. But there is one difference in America. America has a lot of laws making it illegal to have too many people living in an apartment, for example. You aren’t allowed to have more people that two in an apartment for each bedroom. In third-world countries, these restrictions don’t exist. So you could have ten people crowding into a one-bedroom apartment. And believe me, they sometimes do. It’s the only way to make ends meet, for a lot of people. This is a problem that has been with us since the world began, and will continue. I don’t have a solution. I am not rich. But I FELT SO RICH reading this book. This book will help any person to really freshly appreciate what they do have. I HIGHLY recommend it to EVERYONE.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must have, 3 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Nickel and Dimed (Paperback)
After hearing so much about this book at uni, I decided to purchase it. It offers a great insight of the journey of millions of Americans
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an excellent account of work conditions of those who don't regularly have a voice, 8 July 2013
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An excellent, vibrant narration of the anxious life millions of low wage workers are obliged to lead. Middle-aged Mrs. Ehrenreich gets herself involved firsthand and reaches her physical limits only in the course of her investigation. There are millions of people all around the world who spend all their lives in the way she describes. This book is a very valuable resource for everyone seeking to ignite a conversation on labor rather than consumption.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Prepare to enter a world that you'll thanks your lucky stars isn't yours (3.5 stars), 30 Aug 2009
A non-fiction work of an American journalist's attempts to live on minimum wages in various parts of the USA (yeah I know you know that already). First person, present tense. I found this book disturbing and fantastic, transporting me into a world of urban poverty. It's a case of count our lucky stars. The author's style is fast, easy reading and there's a good touch of humour. The footnotes are sometimes informative but mostly distracting. There's a 30 page evaluation at the end which comprises 15 percent of this short book. It doesn't end well and detracts from the entertainment value.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside experience of the agony of minimum wage, 29 Sep 2008
Rolf Dobelli "getAbstract" (Switzerland) - See all my reviews
The most unsettling aspect of Barbara Ehrenreich's eye-opening foray into the world of the working poor is that the situation hasn't improved. In fact, it's gotten worse. The U.S. economy was booming in the late 1990s when she began her project, working anonymously in various minimum-wage jobs and reporting about the experience. Though she steps in and out of the lives of the minimum-wage workers who befriend her, she is a very powerful, effective advocate for them. In her book, she shows that living decently on about $7 an hour (still the minimum wage in most states) is impossible. However, Ehrenreich gives it a try in three cities, working as a waitress, housekeeper and Wal-Mart clerk. She reports from the front lines, where the working poor eat potato chips for dinner and sleep in fleabag motels, and she does the same. She finds that minimum-wage workers lead a dreary existence, toiling away in obscurity day after day with little hope, just getting by as long as they don't fall ill, need dental work or get in a car wreck. The terribly sad part is that many see no light at the end of the tunnel. getAbstract finds that Ehrenreich is a gifted writer with keen perceptions and a wry sense of humor. Her narrative flows effortlessly as she enlightens, educates and entertains. If only she had a magic wand.
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8 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN..., 6 Dec 2003
Lawyeraau (Balmoral Castle) - See all my reviews
This is a well-written, interesting, anecdotal book about a well-educated woman's sojourn among the working poor. If only the author had stopped there, the book still would have been a hit. Instead, the author chose to claim it to be representative undercover reportage. Unfortunately, she does not do this with any objectivity, as she views all that she does through liberal, rose colored glasses. Nor does she live as the truly working poor do, as her existence is isolated, cut off from all support systems. While the author received raves from the New York Times Book Review, which acclaimed the author as "...the premier reporter of the underside of capitalism", the reader should remember that the New York Times is the bastion of East Coast liberalism and take such praise with a grain of salt.
The author comes across as a vapid, self-absorbed individual, whose inherent biases and expectations would prevent her from being able to live as a member of the working poor or interact with them on a truly human level. She objects to having to take drug tests in order to secure a minimum wage position, stating that the costs of such a test outweigh the benefits, without any clear understanding, other than the cost of the drug test itself, of what the potential costs of employing substance abusers would be. She authoritatively uses statistics willy-nilly without grounding them in an appropriate context. The author does, however, establish one very important key point that would certainly tend to keep the working poor running in place, and that has to do with the cost of housing. The book leaves little doubt that there needs to be more affordable housing for the working poor. Yet, the author offers no suggestions as to how that would best be accomplished.
Moreover, the author, during her work as a cleaner for a cleaning service company, seems to have a lot of negative things to say about people who have had some demonstrable achievements in life. The author seems to forget that in almost every chapter she does not hesitate to remind the reader that she holds a Ph.D, is middle class, educated, yada, yada, yada. The one positive thing that comes out her experience as a cleaner is that she points out that some cleaning service companies are doing a pretty filthy job of cleaning people's homes. Thanks, Barbara, for the tip, as I would now never consider using such, preferring to do it myself. Unfortunately, her remarks just might cause some of these companies to lose business, causing them to cut back on personnel, the very working poor of whom the author writes.
While the book is interesting at times, the pretentiousness of the author is generally grating and the books ends up being a poor execution of its promise. The author is the quintessential do-gooder, placed in settings of which she has little understanding other than her own pre-conceived, ideologically based ones. It is true that minimum wage will never allow anyone to flourish without some sort of support system in place. Minimum wage is nothing more than what its name states it is. Minimum wage, however, allows the unskilled, minimally experienced worker to get job experience and a proven track record in terms of the work world. Moreover, some of the problems that the author mentions are just those of bad management by those in positions of power. This is not, however, a situation relegated to those who hold minimum wage jobs. Corporate America is rife with bad management and bosses that treat their employees, even well-compensated ones, badly.
Sorry, Barbara, but your book nickel and dimes the reader with its ideological, self-righteous bias, not something a real investigative reporter would do. One should read this book for its interesting anecdotal war stories, and disregard the author's foray into social reform. Her Ph.D is in Biology, not the social sciences.
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Nickel and Dimed
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (Paperback - 5 Aug 2010)
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