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.