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Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
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Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America [Format Kindle]

Barbara Ehrenreich

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Descriptions du produit's Best of 2001

Essayist and cultural critic Barbara Ehrenreich has always specialized in turning received wisdom on its head with intelligence, clarity, and verve. With some 12 million women being pushed into the labor market by welfare reform, she decided to do some good old-fashioned journalism and find out just how they were going to survive on the wages of the unskilled--at $6 to $7 an hour, only half of what is considered a living wage. So she did what millions of Americans do, she looked for a job and a place to live, worked that job, and tried to make ends meet.

As a waitress in Florida, where her name is suddenly transposed to "girl," trailer trash becomes a demographic category to aspire to with rent at $675 per month. In Maine, where she ends up working as both a cleaning woman and a nursing home assistant, she must first fill out endless pre-employment tests with trick questions such as "Some people work better when they're a little bit high." In Minnesota, she works at Wal-Mart under the repressive surveillance of men and women whose job it is to monitor her behavior for signs of sloth, theft, drug abuse, or worse. She even gets to experience the humiliation of the urine test.

So, do the poor have survival strategies unknown to the middle class? And did Ehrenreich feel the "bracing psychological effects of getting out of the house, as promised by the wonks who brought us welfare reform?" Nah. Even in her best-case scenario, with all the advantages of education, health, a car, and money for first month's rent, she has to work two jobs, seven days a week, and still almost winds up in a shelter. As Ehrenreich points out with her potent combination of humor and outrage, the laws of supply and demand have been reversed. Rental prices skyrocket, but wages never rise. Rather, jobs are so cheap as measured by the pay that workers are encouraged to take as many as they can. Behind those trademark Wal-Mart vests, it turns out, are the borderline homeless. With her characteristic wry wit and her unabashedly liberal bent, Ehrenreich brings the invisible poor out of hiding and, in the process, the world they inhabit--where civil liberties are often ignored and hard work fails to live up to its reputation as the ticket out of poverty. --Lesley Reed

From Publishers Weekly

In contrast to recent books by Michael Lewis and Dinesh D'Souza that explore the lives and psyches of the New Economy's millionares, Ehrenreich (Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class, etc.) turns her gimlet eye on the view from the workforce's bottom rung. Determined to find out how anyone could make ends meet on $7 an hour, she left behind her middle class life as a journalist except for $1000 in start-up funds, a car and her laptop computer to try to sustain herself as a low-skilled worker for a month at a time. In 1999 and 2000, Ehrenreich worked as a waitress in Key West, Fla., as a cleaning woman and a nursing home aide in Portland, Maine, and in a Wal-Mart in Minneapolis, Minn. During the application process, she faced routine drug tests and spurious "personality tests"; once on the job, she endured constant surveillance and numbing harangues over infractions like serving a second roll and butter. Beset by transportation costs and high rents, she learned the tricks of the trade from her co-workers, some of whom sleep in their cars, and many of whom work when they're vexed by arthritis, back pain or worse, yet still manage small gestures of kindness. Despite the advantages of her race, education, good health and lack of children, Ehrenreich's income barely covered her month's expenses in only one instance, when she worked seven days a week at two jobs (one of which provided free meals) during the off-season in a vacation town. Delivering a fast read that's both sobering and sassy, she gives readers pause about those caught in the economy's undertow, even in good times.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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359 internautes sur 404 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 I really wanted to like this book but... 11 mars 2002
Par Cherie Clark - Publié sur
I'm not sure I'll be able to adequately explain my feelings about this book. While I expected to love it, it left me disappointed. But I can't understand all the anger I've seen in reviews I have read. Barbara Ehrenreich's heart is in the right place, I'm just not sure that she has the proper attitude or experience to write a realistic picture of what it's like to try to survive on a low paying job. She tried, though, and I suppose I need to give her more credit for that. Her premise is that no one can have a decent standard of living while working for minimum wage, and I agree it's very difficult. But she believed that before she started her experiment, and I don't think she learned anything new from her adventures in the world of low paying jobs. She only searched for details that confirmed what she already believed, and in the end, she persists in placing blame on the workers who probably feel trapped in a situation they don't know how to leave.
I think that the major fault I find with this book is Ms. Ehrenreich's attitude. She seems condescending towards her fellow employees and resentful towards her employers. And at all times, it's obvious that she can't understand what it really feels like to have to live on what she's making. She knew she would never have to. Her attitude towards her co-workers is perhaps understandable. What seems most inconsistent to me is her opinion towards ALL of her bosses. I was especially disappointed in her description of one of her managers at Wal-Mart. She introduced her boss, Ellie by saying "I like Ellie", but then went on to scornfully describe her style as "the apotheosis of 'servant leadership'...the vaunted 'feminine' style of management." What's wrong with a person in a position of responsibility showing some respect for those she manages? Why couldn't Ms. Ehrenreich just accept her good luck in having a supervisor who was a genuinely nice person? I'm sure Ellie isn't getting rich on what she made at Wal-Mart, either. The pay scale for EVERY job within that store probably compares unfavorably to any work with which the author has ever supported herself!
The author's attitude towards the people whose houses she cleaned in Maine also troubled me. They are not the cause of the low pay and long hours she and her co-workers endured. It was obvious that Ms. Ehrenreich was ashamed of cleaning houses, of being in a role she saw as subservient. It isn't like that for everyone. Friends I have had who cleaned houses for a living, even through an agency, often became friends with the people whose homes they cleaned and I never had the impression that my friends felt inferior to the homeowners. However, it does seem obvious to me that the owner of the agency Ms. Ehrenreich worked for was being very short sighted when it came to his attitude on wages. By refusing to even consider a pay raise for his employees in what seemed to be a tight pool of potential workers, he was guaranteeing that his business would not grow.
Many of my personal feelings about this book come from the fact that from 1980 until 1993, I supported myself with a series of low paying jobs, everything from fast food worker, to telephone sales, to even Wal-Mart. Did I live well? At times I did. Most of that time I worked at least two jobs at a time, often with fewer than one or two full days off each month. But like Ms. Ehrenreich, I had the advantage of being a single woman with no children to support. I have no doubt that had I been raising children, I would have needed some kind of financial assistance. Things I could choose to do without as an adult would not be an option for a mother. Could a mother with children live without a car? Could I have given my children a good life without access to affordable health insurance? Could a mother with children live in a three-room furnished attic apartment with about 300 square feet of space? I have nothing but admiration for all the people supporting themselves and their families on low wages. Often people who knew I worked two jobs would ask why I worked so much, even inquiring if I had children to support. I always laughed and replied, "If I had children, how would I afford all the child care I would need to pay for to work so much? When would I have time to actually spend time raising my own children?" But even working up to 60-70 hours each week, the most I ever made in a year was about $18,000 gross. A careful, single woman (or man) could manage pretty well on that. But how could anyone support a family on those wages? While the author feels sorry in an abstract way for the difficult position of her fellow workers, she didn't come away from her experience with much compassion for them. She still doesn't understand that in the world of workers with few skills or little formal education, there are few choices, yet most of these people work very hard and take some pride in what they do. I expected this book to display more respect for workers who provide very necessary services to our society.
304 internautes sur 350 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Unsuccessful guilt-trip targeting a privileged audience. 13 janvier 2009
Par nothingtoseehere - Publié sur
I don't think someone from a privileged upbringing like Mrs. Ehrenreich could possibly understand what it feels like to live the lives of those she profiled in this book. While she could step into their shoes for a brief few days, she knew she had a lavish book contract she was doing it for, she knew she had an education and a world of options available to her. She would never be able to experience something more intense: knowing she would have no safety nets, no help, no future, and a past she feared to reminisce in.

I found her condescension offensive at times. At one point, she referred to TGI Friday's in a scoffing manner, as part of an example of things the poor like; in reality most struggling people could not afford TGI Friday's, that seems to be a middle class establishment. I remember that in my own life (rife with struggle), I had seen TGI Friday's as a special occasion place, for celebrations like birthdays and holidays. Ehrenreich's attitude sheds light on how limited her understanding and pity is. She sees TGI Friday's like I would see a Burger King.

Her choice to go to a dry cleaners was far removed from the choices most underprivileged people would make. Most would hide a stain or purchase a few new outfits from a thrift store rather than blow money on dry cleaners - I cannot name a single truly poor person that I have known in my life that would even know what a dry cleaners is like and what it costs. When you struggle, you don't have room in your budget for such expenses. Barbara could only make room because she never felt real struggle.

Her food choices were also illustrative of a life of privilege. I made do with oatmeal and Ramen when I struggled, budgeting 5-10 dollars a week for food. Her purchasing habits illustrate the sort of budget a rich woman would draw up on a "poor man's salary" and reminds me of an online project I found, by someone else, where they attempted to eat all organic for 300 dollars a month (a food stamp budget). These little trial experiments run by privileged people, to get a taste of being poor, are as authentic as me claiming to be rich by wearing costume shop baubles and smoking a cigar. It's costume play, it never allows you to draw into any of the emotional and social depth of the group you're trying to understand.

These and numerous examples illustrated the fact that the book was written, simply, for an upper middle class audience. I found the book to be well-written and sometimes persuasive, but overall it left a bitter taste in my mouth. I, unlike Barbara, struggled during my lifetime and had been in similar or worse situations as the people she eyed pitifully, and then decided to write about, in her best-selling book.

This book was part of the required material we would read in a college advanced English class I was in. I found it ironic that I would have to read a wealthy woman's account of what it was like to be poor, considering my own experiences. I was a homeless 18 year old girl that had managed to win scholarships based on my high performance in high school, despite the fact I was just riding out of a 2 year struggle with schizophrenia, which I was diagnosed with at 16 after a sudden, horrific, long episode (which would fade away as rapidly as it came, only to haunt me like a specter, capable of reappearing throughout my life). Because of my illness, I had alienated my family and friends, many of which never knew the extent of my problems. I left home and lived in squalid apartments with boyfriends or friends.

There I was, without a computer, often relying on school labs to write essays and papers when I wasn't at one of my two jobs I had to churn through to even afford to support myself and the gas I needed to drive to school and to my jobs. I worked at a Toys R Us store and at a clothing store. I purchased all my clothing from thrift stores. Yet, with tremendous pride, I never spoke about my own struggles. Once I read this book, however, I felt exhausted with it's pitying tone and it's assumptions that one could possibly evoke the despair, the hideousness, of being disadvantaged.

I spoke briefly about my experiences in class, and found that people would not meet my eye, and often regarded me with distaste. When I explained how I could live on 5 dollars a week for food, stretching a box of oatmeal and ramen noodles to survive, nobody would even comment. The classroom was full of middle and upper class students that could mutter about how they could feel and understand the poor people in the book, could write essays proselytizing about the awfulness of society and how it shuts out the neediest among us. Yet at the same time, they were uncomfortable with being my friend, with helping me, with even hearing me talk about what I was going through. Knowing I was homeless and struggling had them regard me as weird, had them judging me and assuming I was a drug addict or that it was all my fault. Despite what they read, they could only apply their learned assumptions as far as it served them, to advance themselves in their class and to showily talk about how they "feel" for the poor. I simply made my much wealthier classmates uncomfortable, for I didn't exist comfortably in a book as a flat character they could sympathize over. I was a living, breathing person that challenged their imagined generosity - sure, they cared ever so deeply for the poor, and yet here was a poor person among them, and not one person offered me a place to stay or any sort of help. Of course, I didn't ask for it, but it made the things they wrote in their essays or spoke of in class completely meaningless.

I talk about my experiences within that class because it reflects my experiences reading this book as a whole. The target audience's ability to relate to poor people by living vicariously through Ehrenreich's experiences is really displacement of their guilt and lack of true compassion. I would guarantee that 90-95% of people that have read this book were only temporarily affected emotionally, and that most, if not all, were not changed for life in any way. Most would still hold the same assumptions and judgments of homeless people, of people that struggle, that need welfare to make ends meet. The majority would not dedicate a fraction of their paycheck, or their time, to help underprivileged people in their communities.

This book does not make a real difference in society. It advances Ehrenreich to required-reading status at privileged private colleges and it gives guilty, privileged people another cause or issue to tack onto the growing lists they care about but would not sacrifice for. Just like how most people are well aware of the poverty and hunger in conflict, AIDS and drought-torn Africa, and yet only a fraction of a percentage would put their lives on pause and go overseas to distribute vaccines and food aide pouches. We can all shed a tear over a documentary on Darfur, but our excuses as to why we put our own massively advantaged lives and privileges first, over going to the Sudan to volunteer, ar endless.

This book will not help the plight of the poor, it does not change the stereotypes that affect the ability of struggling and poor people to land better jobs, or help homeless people gain respect and shrug off the misconstrued assumptions applied to them by others. This book rings hollow, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of anyone who has ever TRULY struggled and endured years of struggle. I myself have had very little in my life but I constantly give back; I worked tirelessly and have put myself through nursing school and upon my graduation, I intend to travel abroad to offer humanitarian aid. I don't want to paint myself off as a saint, I am simply trying to prove my point here - this book is just meaningless heart-string tugging fodder for a guilty generation of people that are unwilling to take the steps necessary to challenge and change the social ills causing poverty and struggle in America.

The causes of poverty are intricate and networked, like a web, across the nation, connecting industries and employers. If you are not fighting actively against the forces behind them, you are supporting them (just as with remaining silent about racism, sexism or any other semi-transparent social force). We are all complicit by shopping at stores like Wal-Mart, which encourage the devastation of the lower class, or by carefully holding onto our privileges and status and refusing to actually give, and give generously and plentifully (not just money you would've spent on your latte, but money that you will actually miss, knowingly wanting it to go for those who would have never otherwise had that money in the first place).

We need to mobilize everyone to act and to vote for which companies they support and which people they reward.

We need to protest the gross overpayment of sports stars and celebrities (who in turn endorse soccer balls and Nike shirts that are made by children in sweatshops and sold by struggling people in Wal-Marts nationwide).

We need to be politically active.

Oh, but already, it's a lot of work, it requires time and effort, and a sacrifice of one's own comfort. So of course, it won't happen, but we'll see plenty of sales of books like this, which can momentarily affect someone's life but in the long run have no positive effect on the struggling working poor it intended to expose.
143 internautes sur 164 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 What a shame. 14 mai 2006
Par Cynthia R. Knowles - Publié sur
Barbara Ehrenreich seems to have missed the point of her own research. Her proposed plan was to move to a new city with a small amount of capitol, find a minimum wage job and a place to live and try to make ends meet. She was searching for insight into the working poor who represent a large segment of American workers, made larger since welfare reform. She had the opportunity to be their spokesperson, but instead she was too busy complaining about her own discomfort.

For starters, Ms. Ehrenreich doesn't give up her health insurance or car during this entire experiment. In fact, at one job she develops an itchy rash and instead of doing what the working poor who have no health insurance would do - go the the nearest drug store and buy something OTC and hope for the best - she calls her personal out-of-state dermatologist for a prescription so she is itch-free in a matter of days. Barb, honey, that's not how it works for people without health insurance! They work sick, uncomfortable, injured and even itchy. Really.

She also had the advantage of a car, which she used to drive to multiple employers during the first few days of a new job hunt, filling out applications, having interviews and hunting for an apartment. A car is a luxury many working poor don't have, so they are not able to visit 10 or more potential employers on a single day to put in applications and have interviews like she did. The real working poor use public transportation, bicycles or shoe leather. If the job location or housing is more than a mile from a public transportation route, it's off the radar for many people. I wish Barb had tried this at one of her test cities so that she could see how inconvenient, frustrating and limiting public transportation can be.

She seemed to have her pick of jobs at every location, finding work was never a problem, and she berates those who say it is. However, she refused to work more than an 8 hour shift, and complained that at one job she had to go 2 1/2 hours without a break and she didn't think she could make it. Oh gosh, the horror! Would love to see her do farm work, or road work.

There is a lot of complaining about the cost of rent increasing faster than the minimum wage scale. This is true, and an excellent point. She failed at all of her minimum wage locations because the cost of housing broke her bank at the end of the month. But never once did she consider having a roommate. That would have cut her expenses by 50%! And when she got to the end of the second week in Minneapolis without a paycheck and without a reasonably priced room, it never occurred to her to sell her car. Barb may have been working with the poor, but she just didn't get it.

I was offended by her inappropriate sarcasm and her obsession with ethnicity - describing every single person she saw or met by race FIRST. But I was most offended by her not understanding that people come in a vast range of "normal." There are many people working the jobs she worked who just aren't capable of working as a manager or professional writer and never will be. They have found employers who respect their abilities and they take great pride in their work. The same work that Barbara had such contempt for. In fact, while working at Wal-Mart she describes her work by saying, "I could be a deaf-mute...autism might be a definite advantage." Really, she wrote that, real sensitive, huh?

She also seems to think that everyone who is lower middle class is fat, and that fat people are to be disrespected. She writes, "Everyone knows that the lower middle class are tragically burdened by the residues of decades of potato chips and french toast sticks." She refers to Wal-Mart customers as "wide-bodies" and fears if she's standing in the wrong place at the wrong moment she might be crushed by one.

She laments over and over, "Why don't they get out of these jobs, find something better, move up in the world?" Just maybe, Barb, some of these employees are already working up to their abilities, are proud of the fact that they have jobs, and a social circle at work of people who respect them.

Her true colors show when she walks out on, quits without notice, and even leaves other employees the responsibility of returning her uniforms in every single location. She has no thought for the workers she left short handed, or the bosses who were left under staffed. She might write that her coworkers are important, and she might have done some kind things for them, but she was an irresponsible and thoughtless employee.

I give this book two stars instead of one because it is well-written. It is the content that I object to. Barb might write about the lower middle class, but she surely does not understand what it means to live lower middle class. She never really got it. There are many better books on the plight of the working poor listed on this amazon page and in many of the other reviews.
120 internautes sur 143 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
1.0 étoiles sur 5 Ehrenreich Insults Readers 9 décembre 2001
Par Angela - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
In this book, the author, Barbara Ehrenreich, took time out of her busy upper-class life as a writer/journalist to see if she could make ends meet in the unskilled job market. It was no surprise to find out that she could not. Ehrenreich is trying to make an important point about the needs of the working poor in this country, but her approach may hurt her cause more than it helps.
While reading this book, I was continually distracted by an ever-increasing dislike for its author. The author was incredibly self-aggrandizing. In her "evaluation" section, where I assumed she would be evaluating the ability of a low-income worker to survive, she spends the first several pages patting herself on the back for being such a hard worker. Although Ehrenreich is a well-received author with a PhD in biology, the author seems like a bored socialite who for whom the poor are a "hobby."
Ehrenreich gives lips service to the traditional liberal ideals, but doesn't seem at all kind-hearted or giving. For example, she admits that while working at Wal-Mart she planted seeds of discontent with her co-workers not in a serious attempt to unionize, but was rather, "just amusing myself."
Perhaps more importantly, the author doesn't seem to consider her audience with anything other than contempt. Who does she think is reading the book? To whom is she selling her message? Only others like her? Her insensitivity insults and alienates a large portion of the populace, and potentially clouds her message. To name a few examples, the author criticizes or ridicules Christians, midwesterners, fat people, short people, people who live in trailers, fraternity members, people who hire maids, teachers, the elderly, and my personal favorite, the mentally ill. I am amazed that the author (who has a PhD, you know) wasn't smart enough to upholster her arguments in better-smelling cloth. I myself am an ardent liberal, and agree with most of her conclusions. But my dislike for the author and her approach made me feel defensive even of Sam Walton!
25 internautes sur 27 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 First hand look at the indignities of low-wage work 13 juin 2001
Par J. Grattan - Publié sur
The author's experiences as a low-wage worker leave little doubt as to the near impossibility of supporting one's self on wages of $7.00 an hour. However, it is pretty obvious in this multi-month experiment that the author was never subjected to the gut-wrenching fear of being without money for life's essentials: she could and did bail out or fall back on resources from her affluent life when she felt the squeeze.
But the book is only partly about the wage squeeze that the lower echelon of our work force must endure. It is the conditions of employment that the author describes and experienced that drives the book.
As the author moves from waitressing, to cleaning houses, and to being a Wal-Mart associate it becomes obvious that the industrial relations of low-wage jobs exact a very burdensome toll. In low-wage work the distinction between management and employee is emphasized: the employee is not to be trusted and is required to follow exacting rules of work enforced by close supervision or the threat of surveillance. The personality screening and drug testing that occur when being hired stress to the new employee the inequality of the employment relationship. It is a lesson to be absorbed and not forgotten.
The author was forced to fight the fatigue, frustration, and even boredom of the low-wage jobs as constructed by the employers. Even a few moments of dignity and self-respect that originate from a job well done cannot offset the controlled and demanding nature of low-wage work.
The author is obviously an advocate for unempowered low-wage workers. But in what may be the most disturbing point of the book, the author admits to finding little in the way of understanding among her low-wage co-workers of their conditions of employment or of class relations in general - many even were mostly concerned with satisfying unreasonable managerial expectations. Such is one of the effects of many low-wage work regimes.
In a era when welfare has been reformed right out of the consciousness of most Americans, this book attempts to place the very real poverty of millions of hard-working Americans back on the radar screen.
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