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Customer Review

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A harrowing read, 15 Nov. 2007
This review is from: Nickel and Dimed: On Getting by in America (Spare Change?) (Paperback)
If you've ever wondered what it was like to skate the borders of being poor in America this is for you. Granted it's a slightly superficial look but it's a harder look than many commentators will do. Barbara Ehrenreich decides to try out working at the minimum wage, to see what it's like to be working class and if some of the assumptions are true. She finds out how hard a job can be and how easy it is to fall into some poverty traps. She finds herself working without thinking about her work, her future, her dignity. You get a feeling from it that she is very thankful that it was an experiment, that she could escape, and her frequent references to her life away from the experiment seemed almost to be in order to reassure herself that this wasn't her future.

Her path, Florida to work as a Waitress; Maine to work as a maid and as a helper in an nursing home and Minesota as a Wal-Mart "associate", is a different one and I found myself annoyed and amused at her reactions to the work. She is both isolated and involved in the world of her peers and in many ways this leaves her at a loss sometimes.

Yes, the wages she earns are not what would keep you working, healthy, paying rent and away from legal or illegal stimulants (one of the most irritating portions involved her trying to detox from an ill-advised joint to prepare for a drug test and she doesn't look harder at why she chose to toke that joint).

It's somewhat flawed, she's very aware of her situation, she doesn't really engage with her peers or the jobs at hand. For example while working for the maid service she condemns the idea of hiring a maid. I have done this myself, in order to give myself some breathing space and when I worked it out, it cost me less in stress and I could afford it. What is wrong is when people expect the job to be done in a time that is unviable and their managers really don't understand hygiene, or allow the time to do more than a superficial job.

She skips over this point, that often society demands more for less while thinking of these jobs as being below them. That in fact the people who do service jobs are the people who are the backbone and support of the managers who employ them and are a necessary part rather than something that can be pushed under the carpet and ignored. If a job satisfies and pays enough for a person to live and to fulfil themselves either outside and inside work shouldn't that be considered a fulfilling job?

But I digress. It's a book to get you thinking, to get you asking questions and most importantly to look at how you live and plan what would happen if you HAD to do this.
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