Friday, January 24, 2014

Review: Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

Synopsis: Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job -- any job -- can be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered. Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. She lived in trailer parks and crumbling residential motels. Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly "unskilled," that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you want to live indoors. Nickel and Dimed reveals low-rent America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity -- a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate stratagems for survival. Read it for the smoldering clarity of Ehrenreich's perspective and for a rare view of how "prosperity" looks from the bottom. You will never see anything -- from a motel bathroom to a restaurant meal -- in quite the same way again. (from the back of the book)

Review: I read this about 10 years ago, and then saw the play based on her work. At the time, I thought her work was brilliant. Of course, I was fresh out of college, full to the brim with ideas about life, none of which had any touch with reality. Now, with ten years of real world experience in my brain, I realize Ehrenreich's work is highly flawed and lopsided. The main thing that bothered me, was while congratulating herself on "living like the poor" she refused to live like them! She had to have a car and bought herself wine and $30 khaki pants. She refused jobs because she was "tired" or didn't want to do them. She constantly complained about not having TV or AC or books. She also seemed to think all supervisors were evil, as if they sat around calculating ways to dehumanize their workers. It never occurred to her the supervisors were in a similar position or to offer any kindness to them. She also complained ALL the time about drug tests. This shows a complete naivety when it comes to human nature.
In the end, I think Ehrenreich's idea was a good one, but she executed it all wrong and spent to much time complaining about her lack of comforts and how hard things were, instead of trying to actually understand what poverty is.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-8050-6388-9
Date Finished: 1-22-2014
Pages: 221

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