Nickel and Dimed: On Getting by in America (Spare Change?) Paperback – 1 May 2002
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In an attempt to understand the lives of Americans earning near-minimum wages, Ehrenreich works as a waitress in Florida, a cleaning woman in Maine, and a sales clerk in Minnesota.
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The author is a writer who decided to live (by working) on minimum wage for a while. She moves state, finds housing, finds a job, settles into a routine then moves on to start again elsewhere.
It's an uncomfortable read with a vague feeling of the author staring at humans from a different species - most readers will never have experienced conditions in which low paid workers live and, whilst it's very difficult to admit to, there is an underlying feeling of looking through the bars into a zoo. As she gets to know her coworkers at each company and the group is humanised the authors approach softens - a major breakthrough being the acknowledgement that we all want to be appreciated regardless of money being earned.
The author appears to be outraged by the conditions suffered by low paid workers and, as this book is intended to stir up some opinions, then this is entirely appropriate but I'm not quite sure that she should be outraged. How does she think people live on $7 an hour? It's not news that life is impossible on these rates of pay but what is the most engaging element of this book is the insight about the individuals she meets during her travels. Many people generalise the "poor" and these book turns the group into people, promoting an urge to thank waitresses more regularly, smile at check out operators and maybe even just notice maids!
I found the authors attitude a little self righteous but have to admire her greatly for going out and finding out what is actually happening rather than just listening to others.
A criticism would be that the book was published in 2001 and has not been updated since. There is little reference to welfare available in the states that she visits and I would have been interested to know what the position was then and is now. I feel more reading coming on!
This book made me think .... a lot.
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.
It opens your mind to something you could always see, always knew was there, but somehow failed to grasp, accept and appreciate.
It resonates in the UK with the Zero hour contract that puts all power into the hands of the employer and appears in most cases to be used to keep the workforce subservient (Im sure in limited cases zero hour contracts are great).
Highly recommended read.
It is essential to notice her capability to describe in detail real life tragedies of people among us
People who live and labor unoticed but struggle to get a normal life