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Customer Review

18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars confusing the issue, 29 Jan. 2005
This review is from: Nickel and Dimed: Undercover in Low-wage USA (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. 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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Initial post: 14 Sep 2013 22:55:41 BDT
Tooma says:
Thank you.
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