Townhouse Books

Thursday, February 16, 2006

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

I am really glad I read this book.

I remember listening the news in Rhode Island a few years ago and hearing then say that (something like) 70% of people in the Rhode Island homeless shelters had jobs. This book, where Barbara Ehrenreich goes to different cities and tries to find housing, live on minimum wage jobs, and make ends meet, exposes the "invisible" poor, who have little mobility, few safety nets, and suppressed expectations. For example, one waitress working with Ehrenreich is thrilled when the manager allows her to park her car, which doubles as her house, in the restaurant lot overnight. It's a safer location that other places she parks, but now she can't seek out a better paying job for fear of losing nighttime parking. Another interesting point is that people hired for jobs in Wal-Mart and such are slid through the process so seamlessly from dropping off the application to orientation, etc., that there is no point at which someone says "you're hired," and subsequently no point at which it seems appropriate to negotiate. It's not as though I grew up in a wealthy family or anything, but I haven't experienced this day-to-day struggle either. This book was incredibly eye opening to me. I'll never look at Merry Maids the same way again.


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  • While I was reading this book, a waitress in a BBQ restaurant asked me what I was reading and I told her it was a book about people not being able to get by on their wages. She asked me if it had any good advice, because she was broke again that week and needed to save up for new tires.

    By Anna, at 1:42 PM  

  • I was just lucky enough last week to see Ehrenreich speak. She's really funny. I'll see if I can find some of the great quotes I wrote down.

    I have to say, as a tiny, tiny caveat, that she is a journalist and not an incredibly academic writer. She does a great job reporting on what she sees, and backing up her assertions with statistics. But she's not a policy wank type, so for really deep economic discussion, you'd have to move onto another book. About ecomomics. That I wouldn't understand.

    But I've been on an Ehrenreich tear. We even briefly talked about it in an English class in the library -- the American Dream is that if you work hard, you get a decent house and can send your kids to school.

    That idea is, currently, bullshit.

    By lillygog, at 12:22 PM  

  • Have you read Bait & Switch? I haven't, but I read a very irritable review. Apparently her undercover methodology comes off as less valid in the white collar job arena.

    By Anna, at 7:20 AM  

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