Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Comments on Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America

[For folks who haven't read this book, journalist Barbara Ehrenreich narrates her experience (experiment) working various minimum wage jobs in a few different states in her quest to find out if these jobs are enough to make ends meet]

A friend was looking over my copy of the book and said Ehrenreich preferred to live on her own, a decision that meant that a good deal of her income went towards housing, while having a roommate could've significantly cut her housing costs. Many of Ehrenreich's coworkers, my friend pointed out, shared their housing with other people. Not to mention a shelter option -- something a social worker had recommended at one point to her. Sardonically I replied to my friend her decision not to live with a roommate was offset by the fact she started her experiment with money -- not common for the people working the jobs she took.

Though I have my critiques, I've reread this book many times. A lot of aspects in it appealed to me -- one, a person takes on a new persona. Second, I wanted to explore the story of the people behind these jobs. And of course, though it's strictly anecdotal (based on Ehrenreich's experience) I wanted to know how she got to her conclusion and the process it involved. The process in itself was engaging and Ehrenreich's shared some thoughtful insights. I'd recommend this book not as a bible but a valuable read. Some things I liked was that Ehrenreich succeeded in describing her coworkers' characters in a way that allowed me to relate and empathize with them and put personalities to workers of jobs that aren't typically seen -- maids, waiters, and housekeepers.


antiSWer said...

I really liked this book. Bait and Switch was also pretty good (about the middle class job hunt).

Anatolia said...

I liked Bait and Switch too. She's a great writer, very engaging. Though I had more issues with its premise than Nickel and Dimed (trying to find positions for which she had very little experience) and some of her choices in finding work.

It does foster conversation.

Melinda said...

I agree with your, "not a bible, but a good read" comment--a lot of my students read it, and then we can use it as a launching point to talk about the low-wage economy. I enjoy several of her columns, too--she just had a great post last week about our obligation to give to those (homeless or otherwise) who ask--controversial statement, but well argued on her part.