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Barbara Ehrenreich is that rarest of breeds, a 21st century American who still clings to the tenets of Socialism.  At the suggestion of Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's, she decided to try to see how folks moving from welfare to work might be faring and if she could survive on the minimal income provided by a series of low level jobs.  Allowing herself a small amount of startup money, she went to Key West, FL; Orchard Beach, ME; and Minneapolis, MN; and found work and a place to live, with a goal of saving enough by the end of the month to pay the next month's rent.  Her jobs consisted of waitressing and working as a hotel maid in Florida, working at a nursing home and a house cleaning service in Maine, and at Wal-Mart in Minnesota.  Her essays about this experience first appeared in Harper's but are here expanded, barely, to a book length account in which we find out much about Barbara Ehrenreich, fairly little about the difficult lives of people she worked with, and nearly nothing about what she would suggest we do to make their lives easier.

You see, one of the most distinctive things about the book is that Ehrenreich creates a fictional version of herself.  She has to minimize her experience when she goes for interviews, has to disguise her true mission from co-workers and supervisors, has to (mostly) reign in her radical political views, etc.  But even more, she is a completely atomized being with no family and no friends.  This both makes her character in the book completely unrealistic and leaves her to spend all her time fixating on herself.  Both are unfortunate.  The lack of friends and family merely serves to point out what an utter impossibility it is for society to help people who have absolutely no support system of their own.  One of her main problems is the cost of rent--which must be recognized as a significant problem for a society that expects people to be able to afford living quarters near the hot economies that are producing jobs.  But it seems abundantly obvious that rent would be less of a problem if she was splitting it with a roommate, friend, or family member.  In fact, this is so obvious that her endless complaining abut her rent loses its effectiveness because we realize how easy a problem this would be to alleviate.

Equally maddening is her refusal to take advantage of the easiest opportunity that exits to find friendship and social assistance : church.  At one point she actually goes to a revival meeting, but it turns out she's only there to make fun of the service.  Later, when she arrives in Minnesota, she spends an evening with a woman who a friend has suggested she look up.  As far as we can tell from the text, this is one of the few times she spends a significant amount of time, and has a lengthy discussion, with someone from the social milieu she's purportedly investigating (the rest of the time she just seems to race back to her hotel room to type up notes).  But here she meets someone who has been on welfare, has been homeless, has actually packed up her children and moved to a strange city, without knowing she has a real life she could fall back on if things went badly.  And what is this woman's primary piece of advice :

    'Always find a church.'  People from the church drove her around to the WIC office...and to find a
    school for her twelve-year-old girl and day care for her baby.  Sometimes they also helped with

But no, Ehrenreich refuses this advice, and its hard to take her complaints about the lack of available help seriously, knowing that her anti-religious sensibilities prevent her from accepting one of the most readily available sources of assistance.

There is one other form of help available which Ehrenreich chooses not to discuss.  If she really were such a low income worker, I believe she would be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).  Ehrenreich shows that it is fairly easy to find a job in the current economy, and to find one that will pay in the range of $7 to $9.  At $8.50 an hour, your income for a full time job would be $17,680.  This would put you comfortably above the poverty level ($8,590 for a single person, $14,630 for a single parent with two children) and not only would you not have to pay Federal Income Tax, you would actually get money from the government under the EITC, hundreds, possibly even several thousand, dollars.

Don't get me wrong, I still think it's a difficult existence.  But by not taking advantage of, nor explaining, all of the opportunities that exist to make it less difficult, she seems to be stacking the deck in her disfavor, which, in turn, suits her political position.

Meanwhile, all we are left with is Ehrenreich.  Ehrenreich at work or Ehrenreich in a hotel room.  The rest of the working poor are merely a backdrop.  Sure, she's working the jobs that these folks work, but she's hardly living the life they lead.  She doesn't participate in their lives, neither individually by visiting their homes or having them over, nor communally by doing the types of things they do in their off hours.  The occasional comment from these folks that Ehrenreich does share suggests that in the first place, they are not alone, as she is.  Many live with family, or have spouses or steadies who work.  And they are not particularly dissatisfied with their lives, nor do they resent their employers.  Actually, most of them seem proud to be working, proud of their work, and proud of the companies for which they work.

In fact, Ehrenreich is surprised to find herself sharing many of these same feelings about her work.  Early on in the endeavor, while waitressing in Florida, she realizes that she truly cares about doing a good job and providing quality service to her customers.  Though, for obvious reasons, she chooses not to dwell on it, this is really the key to understanding why both Marxism and Welfare failed.  The doctrine of the Left precludes the possibility of people receiving satisfaction from their work.  They are supposed to be alienated from it and to resent the employer who exploits their labor.  Instead, for almost all of us, our work provides a measure of self worth and, on some level, we end up feeling a sense of ownership of the business.  Though for much of the book Ehrenreich engages in navel gazing
that will only appeal to her hardiest fans, in the closing pages she offers a truly moving assessment of how she did, and the pride she takes in having, for the most part, succeeded is genuinely effecting.  Here is a denizen of the upper middle class basking in the glow of just making ends meet; imagine how much more powerfully such an achievement must effect someone who has been living on government assistance for years.

So we come to the end of the book and it seems reasonable to expect Ehrenreich to draw some conclusions about the whole experience and to suggest some alternatives.  But, other than some self congratulations and a half-hearted pitch for a living wage (estimated to be about $14 per hour) and rent control, she doesn't bring much to the table.  Allow me then to suggest some ways to give such workers more control over their lives :

    (1)    Privatize Social Security : Let these workers take control of their own retirement money and
            manage it.  Let them build it into a fund that will both provide for their own future and give
            them an increased sense that they themselves are genuinely responsible for that future.

    (2)    Re-privatize Health Care : Create a program of Medical Saving Accounts, tied to Catastrophic
            Insurance, whereby workers would pay into a private account which would be used for health
            care costs, but which would allow them to draw down some proportion of the money they
            have left at the end of the year.  This would turn us all into more efficient health care
            consumers and return power to our hands, instead of leaving it in the hands of bureaucrats at
            HMOs, Managed Care, and in the government.

    (3)    Privatize Public Housing : Instead of building high rises to warehouse the poor and working
            poor, take all the money we currently spend on Public Housing and turn it into vouchers to be
            used in buying homes.  This will give folks an investment to build upon, a greater sense of
            responsibility for where they live, and a deeper attachment to the community.

    (4)    Re-privatize the Education System :  Take all the money we currently spend on public
            schooling, turn it into vouchers, and let parents decide where to spend their money.  This will
            make the education system more efficient and more responsive to parents and students.  It will
            also re-invest parents in the education of their children.

Each of these suggestions has two components, one public, one private, which share a symbiotic relationship.  They each bring free market forces to bear on the various strands of the Social Welfare Net, which should help to strengthen it, but also make it work more efficiently, giving taxpayers a bigger bang for their buck.  At the same time, by making recipients of social welfare into paying consumers they confer responsibility on people, enabling them to assert increased control over their own lives.  If having a job and doing it well can have such a positive effect on peoples' lives, how much more empowered will they feel when they are providing for their own retirement, buying their own houses, paying for their own health care, and deciding how their own children will be educated?

Still, let's not kid ourselves, no matter how much faith we put, and responsibility we vest, in people, some folks just are not going to provide for themselves, either because they are unable to do so or are unwilling.  As a society we have decided that we will not allow this permanent underclass to completely fall through the cracks, but we've also found that government programs designed to help them are grossly inefficient and not much help.  On the other hand, religious and private institutions have a much better track record of providing basic services (meals, a place to sleep, even health care) than does government.  So here too, we should shift dollars from public programs to private, allowing churches, shelters, and the like to accept government dollars, if they so choose, with no strings attached.  This will serve to foster community, with local organizations providing assistance to local people, and will deliver more effective social services to the truly needy.

Can I get an Amen ?


Grade: (C)


See also:

Barbara Ehrenreich (2 books reviewed)
Barbara Ehrenreich Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Barbara Ehrenreich
-OBIT: Barbara Ehrenreich, Explorer of Prosperity’s Dark Side, Dies at 81: Her book “Nickel and Dimed,” an undercover account of the indignities of being a low-wage worker in the United States, is considered a classic in social justice literature. (NY Times, 9/02/22)
    -TRIBUTE: She Kicked Ass: The late Barbara Ehrenreich was a model for leftist writers and thinkers, combining deep knowledge, scathing wit, and a righteous anger at injustice. (Nathan J. Robinson, 9/05/22, Current Affairs)
    -TRIBUTE: The Long Fight of Barbara Ehrenreich: Remembering the champion of the working class, scourge of the self-important, and my friend of 50 years. (DEIRDRE ENGLISH, 9/07/22, Mother Jones)
    -TRIBUTE: Model Practitioner: Remembering Barbara Ehrenreich (Chris Lehmann, September 6, 2022, Baffler)
    -TRIBUTE: On Barbara Ehrenreich: Look at yourself, she always asks the reader; what do you see there? (GABRIEL WINANT, 9/11/22, N+)
    -TRIBUTE: My Revolutionary Inspiration, Barbara Ehrenreich: Remembrances of the late author have focused on her best-selling Nickel and Dimed with only rare acknowledgement of the major roles she played in women’s liberation and U.S. socialism. (Lynne Segal, 9/15/22, Boston Review)
    -TRIBUTE: Barbara Ehrenreich helped make inequality visible – her legacy lives on in a reinvigorated labor movement (Adia Harvey Wingfield, September 12, 2022, The Conversation)
    -ESSAY: Disease of Our Making: Wars produce warlike societies, which in turn make the world more dangerous. (Barbara Ehrenreich, March 23, 2003, LA Times)

Book-related and General Links:
    -ARCHIVES : Barbara Ehrenreich (The Well)
    -Barbara Ehrenreich : contributing writer (The Nation)
    -The Progressive
    -Barbara Ehrenreich's ZNet HomePage
    -BOOK SITE : Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (Henry Holt)
    -ESSAY : Nickel-and-Dimed On (not) getting by in America.(Harper's Magazine, January 01 1999 by Barbara Ehrenreich)
    -EXCERPT : from Nickel and Dimed (Indiana U)
    -EXCERPT : from Nickel and Dimed : Maid to Order (Barbara Ehrenreich, April, 2000, Harper's)
    -INTERVIEW : Three Part interview with Barbara Ehrenreich about Nickel and Dimed (James Fallows, May 2001, The Atlantic Monthly)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW : Life on Minimum Wage (Radio Nation)
    -INTERVIEW : BARBARA EHRENREICH : Maid to Order (David Barsamian, October 11, 2000, Alternative Radio)
    -ESSAY : Warning, This Is a Rights-Free Workplace (Barbara Ehrenreich, March 05, 2000 , NY Times Magazine)
    -ESSAY : Your Urine, Please  (Barbara Ehrenreich, The Progressive)
    -ESSAY : BEHIND THE BOOK : Underpaid and undercover: surviving on seven bucks an hour (Barbara Ehrenreich , Book Page)
    -ESSAY : What Are They Probing For ? : Applying for a job? Get ready for a test of your innermost thoughts (Barbara Ehrenreich, June 2001, TIME)
    -ESSAY : Christian Wahhabists (Barbara Ehrenreich, January 2002, The Progressive)
    -ESSAY : Barefoot, Pregnant and Ready to Fight (Barbara Ehrenreich, TIME)
    -ESSAY : Talking Back to Mom : Re-reading the Feminine Mystique (Barbara Ehrenreich, LA Weekly)
    -ESSAY : When Government Gets Mean : Confessions of a Recovering Statist (Barbara Ehrenreich, The Nation)
    -ESSAY : The Post-Liberal Apocalypse.(Democratic Party Convention 2000) For four days in August, it was end-times in L.A. ( Barbara Ehrenreich, The Progressive, October 01 2000)
    -ESSAY : Why the Religious Right is Wrong  (Barbara Ehrenreich, September 7, 1992, TIME)
    -ESSAY : Religion Starter Kits (Barbara Ehrenreich, The Progressive)
    -ESSAY : On Prayer (Barbara Ehrenreich , Z Magazine)
    -ESSAY : The Vision-Impaired Rich  (Barbara Ehrenreich, The Progressive)
    -ESSAY : The New Creationism: Biology Under Attack  (Barbara Ehrenreich and Janet McIntosh, 6/9/97, The Nation)
    -ESSAY : VOTE FOR NADER  (BARBARA EHRENREICH, August 21/28, 2000, The Nation)
    -ESSAY : Don't Blame Me (Barbara Ehrenreich, November 28, 2000, TIME)
    -ESSAY : Communism on your coffee table! Barbara Ehrenreich on how all-conquering capitalism has turned Karl Marx's "Communist Manifesto" into a glossy adornment that goes with most decorating schemes. (Barbara Ehrenreich [04/30/98] , Salon)
    -ESSAY : The Week Feminists Got Laryngitis (Barbara Ehrenreich, FEBRUARY 9, 1998, TIME)
    -ESSAY : Chasing Monica : The House managers got their wish -- a chance to probe, examine and even "de-brief" the luscious Lewinsky. (Barbara Ehrenreich [01/29/99] , Salon)
    -ESSAY : The Charge: Gynocide  The Accused: The U.S. Government  (Barbara Ehrenreich, Mark Dowie and Stephen Minkin, Mother Jones)
    -REVIEW : of DOWN AND OUT, ON THE ROAD : The Homeless in American History. By Kenneth L. Kusmer (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of JIHAD VS. McWORLD By Benjamin R. Barber  (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of CREATING A NEW CIVILIZATION The Politics of the Third Wave. By Alvin Toffler and Heidi Toffler (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  THE SILENT PASSAGE Menopause. By Gail Sheehy (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of   DIVORCE An American Tradition. By Glenda Riley   (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  THE IMPERIAL MIDDLE :  Why Americans Can't Think Straight About Class By Benjamin DeMott  (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of   A TENURED PROFESSOR  By John Kenneth Galbraith (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of   MARY HEATON VORSE The Life of an American Insurgent. By Dee Garrison.  (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  INTIMATE MATTERS A History of Sexuality in America. By John D'Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman  (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  A GOOD ENOUGH PARENT A Book on Child-Rearing. By Bruno Bettelheim  (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  DAYS LIKE THIS A Tale of Divorce. By Phyllis Gillis  (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  PERFECTION SALAD Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century. By Laura Shapiro  (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of   WOMEN AGAINST CENSORSHIP Edited by Varda Burstyn (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  FASTER The Acceleration of Just About Everything. By James Gleick   (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  WE BAND OF ANGELS The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese. By Elizabeth M. Norman  (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of   AMERICAN NOMAD By Steve Erickson (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of   CLASS ACT America's Last Dirty Secret. By Benita Eisler  (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE PILL, JOHN ROCK, AND THE CHURCH The Biography of a Revolution. By Loretta McLaughlin   (Barbara Ehrenreich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  Frozen Desire: An Inquiry into the Meaning of Money By James Buchan (Barbara Ehrenreich, Z Magazine)
    -BOOKNOTES : Author: Barbara Ehrenreich  Title: Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class  Air date: October 8, 1989 (C-SPAN)
    -INTERVIEW : Mothers Who Think: Does President Clinton feel women's pain -- or cause it? Feminist author Barbara Ehrenreich lashes out at a White House workplace that seems organized around President Clinton's 'problem.' (Lori Leibovich [03/19/97] , Salon)
    -INTERVIEW : Writing for the Mainstream : An interview with Barbara Ehrenreich (October 1997, Z Magazine)
    -INTERVIEW : Rites of war : After studying the roots of combat, Barbara Ehrenreich finds the Balkans crisis all too familiar. (Peter Werbe, 4/21/99, Metro Times)
    -INTERVIEW : MEDIA DIET:  Barbara Ehrenreich (Utne Reader)
    -PROFILE : Barbara Ehrenreich Enemy of Labor (Judith Shulevitz, March 29, 2000, Slate)
    -PROFILE : 1995 Visionaries (Utne Reader)
    -ARCHIVES : ehrenreich (TIME)
    -ARCHIVES : "ehrenreich" (Mother Jones)
    -ARCHIVES : ehrenreich (The Progressive)
    -ARCHIVES : Directory | Barbara Ehrenreich :  A complete listing of Salon articles on Barbara Ehrenreich
    -ARCHIVES : ehrenreich (Slate)
    -ARCHIVES : ehrenreich (NY Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES : ehrenreich (Mag Portal)
    -ARCHIVES : ehrenreich (Find Articles)
    -ESSAY : When Will Real Waitresses Write Their Own Books? (Lauren Sandler, Newsday)
    -PROFILE : Slumming With Barbara Ehrenreich : Wealthy, White Woman Plays Poor and Makes a Killing. (Derek Copold, September 2001, Texas Mercury)
    -REVIEW : of NICKEL AND DIMED On (Not) Getting By in America. By Barbara Ehrenreich (Dorothy Gallagher, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Nickel and Dimed (J. PEDER ZANE , Charlotte News-Observer)
    -REVIEW : of Nickel and Dimed (Steve Early, The Nation)
    -REVIEW : of Nickel and Dimed (Philip Connors, In These Times)
    -REVIEW : of NICKEL AND DIMED On (Not) Getting By in America. By Barbara Ehrenreich (Laura Miller, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Nickel and Dimed (Arianna Huffington, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Nickle and Dimed (Katherine S. Newman, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of Nickel and Dimed (Anne Colomosca, Business Week)
    -REVIEW : of Nickel and Dimed (JEANNIE KEVER, Houston Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America By Barbara Ehrenreich (Steve Weinberg, Chicago Tribune)
    -REVIEW : of Nickel and Dimed : How Low They Can Go : Social critic Barbara Ehrenreich explores the life of low-wage workers and finds them bowedóbut not brokenóby the weight of an economic boom (Mark Gleason , Book)
    -REVIEW : of Nickel and Dimed (Richard Hunt, City Beat)
    -REVIEW : of Nickel and Dimed (Vivien Labaton, Ms)
    -REVIEW : of Nickel and Dimed (Eileen Boris, Boston.�com)
    -REVIEW : of Nickel and Dimed (Lowell Ponte, Front Page)
    -REVIEW of Nickel and Dimed (Knowledge@Wharton)
    -REVIEW : of THE HEARTS OF MEN, American Dreams and the Flight From Commitment. By Barbara Ehrenreich (Carol Tavris, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of RE-MAKING LOVE The Feminization of Sex. By Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess and Gloria Jacobs (1986) (Judith Viorst, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Worst Years of Our Lives (1990)  (HERBERT MITGANG, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of THE WORST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (H. Jack Geiger, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Kipper's Game By Barbara Ehrenreich (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Kipper's Game (Michael Upchurch, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of BLOOD RITES Origins and History of the Passions of War. By Barbara Ehrenreich (1997) (Michael Sherry, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : Oct 9, 1997 Michael Ignatieff: The Gods of War, NY Review of Books
       Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War by Barbara Ehrenreich
       The Rosy Future of War by Philippe Delmas
       Postmodern War: The New Politics of Conflict by Chris Hables Gray
    -REVIEW : of Blood Rites (Thomas Powers, The Atlantic Monthly)
    -REVIEW : of BLOOD RITES: Origins and History of the Passions of War  Barbara Ehrenreich (Jam Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War.(The Humanist,  Edd Doerr)
    -REVIEW : of BLOOD RITES (New Statesman,  Roz Kaveney)
    -REVIEW : of Blood Rites (Cath Walsh, Richmond Review)
    -REVIEW : of FEAR OF FALLING The Inner Life of the Middle Class. By Barbara Ehrenreich  (Jefferson Morley, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Fear of Falling (Scott London)

    -2001 HHS Poverty Guidelines
    -ESSAY : Who is Paid the Minimum Wage and Who Would be Affected by a $1.50 per Hour Increase (D. Mark Wilson , Heritage Foundation, June 2001)
    -ESSAY : $8.25 an hour in a million-dollar world : It was hard for lower-end workers to make ends meet in the Bay Area of the dot-com boom. And it's still hard in the bust. (King Kaufman, Salon)
    -ESSAY : Venus at the Ballot Box : Women may lean toward the "Mommy State," but their politics are more complex than pundits recognize (Cathy Young, Feb 2001, Reason)
    -PROFILE : Noreena Hertz : Infantile Leftist : A new critique of the corporate state has been the focus of extensive media attention. It is intellectually vacuous, says Martin Wolf (Prospect, July 2001)
    -EXCERPT : from The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values  By NANCY FOLBRE
    -REVIEW : of The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values  By NANCY FOLBRE  (EMMA ROTHSCHILD, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Poverty, Inequality and Health: An International Perspective  by David Leon, Gill Walt  and Mind the Gap: Hierarchies, Health and Human Evolution by Richard Wilkinson (Ronan Conroy, British Medical Journal)
    -REVIEW : of The Market System: What It Is, How It Works, and What to Make of It, Charles E. Lindblom (George Scialabba, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY : The PC crowd : A look at the economics of political correctness (The Economist, Jun 14th 2001)
    -REVIEW : of  HOW MEN FEEL Their Response to Women's Demands for Equality and Power. By Anthony Astrachan  (Ron Hansen, NY Times Book Review)


I agreed with this review 100%, She spends way to much time bitching about her working environment to notice anything else. If she really wanted to experience the lifestyle she would have gotten out and attempted to make freinds, join social networks, gotten government help. Instead all she did was bitch and complain about how she can't make ends meet, or how her boss was an ass hole. thank god this woman is not in the government or America would really be going down the shit hole. God bless America, and may he strike this woman with a reality check.

- James

- Apr-06-2007, 03:27


and by the way, the white bashing stuff on here is disgusting. If anyone is being held down in this day and age it's young white males. The government is now designed with all this PC bullshit in mind, which ends up assuming that white America*gasp*( it does exist!) is able to solely service itself with minimal concern and support from its government.

- sean

- Dec-08-2005, 18:12


If you fruits are so concerned with how socioeconomic factors are omnipresent in keeping the poor poor and the rich richer, than do something about it, don't bitch on a website.

- sean

- Dec-08-2005, 18:09


Yes, life is difficult if you're disconnected from society.

- oj

- Nov-03-2005, 19:48


O.K. So I'm currently attending a University in Kansas. My tuition is relativly low compared to most other schools in the state. I resive financial aid as well as a small scholorship. I work a job part time for little under $6 per hour. My parents try to help me when they can (my mother has taken out two loans to help me with school) despite the fact that their own medical bills and house payments drag them down in addition to the fact that my younger brother, too, has just started college. My father sends me money to help with my rent and sends my mother money to help with my insurance. My rent is right under $300 a month including utillities. However, once you factor in my medical expensenses and other side expenses to school that are not included in uition, not to mention gas to drive the hour and a half to see my parents every so often to resive the money they provide me, I still have troble finding enough to keep food in my kitchen. Even with all of my advantages, I still have problems making ends meet. I have credit card debts and massive amouts of loans to be paid back once I graduate. I've worked at Wal-mart and have friends who work in food service. Don't even try to tell me the these people are lazy and just don't care to get out of these situations. My family worked their asses off to get where they are now. The government wouldn't help them because they made just a little bit too much money. There are ways out, but you got to have the backing to get out, which my family did. If it weren't for the fact that we moved to a state with a lower cost of living and my step father's family didn't do everything they could to help pull us up my mother, brother, and I would still be stuck in a crapy apartment in downtown L.A. with nly popcorn for dinner. Oh, yes, one further omment: Not everyone is christian. Not everyon fells comfortable taking hand-outs. Not everyone fells like converting to a religion they do not believe in just to be critized weekly so they can get a box of cherrios and a can of green beans.

- Ash

- Nov-03-2005, 15:50


The most ridiculous claim in this book, which is, frankly, full of ridiculous claims, is that a required drug test is dehumanizing. She complains about testing from the very first one she receives, and I couldn't understand why. Oh, until we find out that she was likely to fail one of them. This certainly puts her criticism into perspective, doesn't it? She KNOWS that drug tests are going to be a part of the hiring process, so why go get high? That is her own fault. So what does she do? She informs people of how to cheat the tests. Thanks, Barb. Let's spread that blanket of personal irresponsiblity a bit farther, shall we? As opposed to, oh I don't know, not using the illegal substances, which, would certainly save these people some money. I refuse to have sympathy for a person who complains they don't have money for rent, but they've got money to buy pot every week. People have to be accountable for their own decisions. Instead, she wants to shift the blame to anyone and everyone else.

- Jason

- Oct-27-2005, 19:02


I can fully relate to what Barbara experienced in Nickle and Dimed. While she does appear to approach the matter from an upper middle class perspective with a way out in the event of an emergency, she does portray the low wage realm accurately. I could write a similar book from a male perspective. I am in my 40s and back in college. Most of my life I've worked low wage slave jobs. I call them dead end jobs. One time a job councellor told me there's no such thing as a dead end job, because any job gives experience and can be used as a "filler" on a resume or application. Well, a job can't be used as a filler when you've been fired, or when you've had a legal battle with the employer over health and safety violations directly attributed to the employer. Such low wage jobs most certainly DO tax ones mental and physical well being. I am a guy in good shape and used to be in very good shape. I've worked jobs where I've been poisoned by chemicals, been sick from exposure to hazardous materials, had rashes break out, and had heavy objects fall on me which have caused injury. I can no longer take any job requiring repetitive tasks with the wrists because my wrists and hands go numb due to being subjected to repetitive use at low wage jobs for up to 16 hours at a time. In many cases the employer has tried to lie their way out of paying compensation and tried to hide the truth from entities such as the labor board and OSHA. And in most cases their lies have been exposed. I have seen two or 3 companies go out of business due to lawsuits and fines brought on all because the employers decided to cut costs at their employees expense. Furthermore, working these low wage jobs never let me get ahead. I could only save so much before some unforseen expense took all my savings. I often could not afford an apartment. I've lived in tents, trailers and camps while working. With my personal experience I can validate everything that is revealed in Nickle and Dimed - and more. I have personally witnessed many of the problems the author addresses. My only complaint would be that while the author does expose the dark underbelly of the low wage realm, she seems to offer no viable solutions for what could be done to solve these problems faced by millions in America.

- J.C.

- Jan-26-2005, 13:57


One of the many falacies in the review--namely, the "suggestions" portion--is the idea that the working poor, especially those with children, have the time, energy or *gasp* knowledge to manage a retirement fund. or be involved heartily in the educational affairs of their children (which is a large problem as we stand today). in fact, these have nothing to do with the low wages and high rents narrated throughout the book.

it's clear the reviwer has never seriously lived a life, even in a very short time, of paycheck-to-paycheck existence. and to assume that, unlike the author, most poor families have support networks! the ignorance is practically painful.

- Robbie

damn right bro. these alternatives seem a little, shall we say, idealistic. they might seem ok in theory, but people just don't have that knowledge or ability to put money away. when you're struggling to survive on minimum wage, you're not going to be concerned with a retirement fund. you need that money NOW. the end of each week is what you look forward to. there's so savings account to lean on when you're looking at even tougher times. you know, alot of things seem logical in theory, but most just don't work out in real life.

- chris

- Nov-18-2004, 00:00


nick, perhaps you should think about the children who grow up in poverty. i certainly believe capitalism is the way to go, but think about how much some people struggle just to survive. think about the kids who never had the opportunity to be educated. think about the kids who need to work low wage jobs just to help their parents put food on the table. maybe some low wage workers are impoverished because of a major life mistake or because they chose not to do better, but there are so many people who have been born into a world with no ladder to climb up. think about how struggling to keep a tiny apartment in the sleezy part of town affects your child's ability to to to college. having 3 jobs doesn't solve this. it's impossible when you're in class. so before you bash the poor, think about the adversities they need to overcome versus your own. it's easy to dis your "lowers" when everything worked out for you.

- chris

- Nov-17-2004, 23:52


pam, being white has nothing to do with anything. i agree with you that the people bashing this book are those who view things from up high. however, i happen to have been born into a financially sound family, and i took this book to heart. i agree that anyone complaining about the way barbara presented her experiences is ignorant, but so are you for making racial inferences. why is it ok for black people to use stereotypes to judge white people, but it's not ok in reverse? why don't you focus on the issues rather than attacking somebody because of your assumption of their skin color.

- chris

- Nov-17-2004, 23:44


The EITC is available ONLY to working PARENTS with dependent children. You need to get your facts straight before you discuss all the supposedly munificent benefits (haha) provided for working people.

And, BTW, how, exactly, would having dependent CHILDREN (the "others" with whom she would likely be living) lower her share of the rent?

We're the only industrialized nation in the world without universal health care, equal per-capita funding for K-12 education, and a decent childcare system. We can only dream about the security that people in most of the rest of the indunstrialized world take for granted. It's pathetic.

- a citizen

- Nov-08-2004, 20:23


I think it is safe to assume that many of you who are so appalled by this book are probably White. You are probably also classified as middle-middle class at best. If you have worked a low-wage job, it was just for pocket money or because your parents felt you needed some sort of job experience. Well kudos to you-you are perfectly aware of societies ills-NOT. It always looks easier when your viewing from the top, as opposed to the bottom

- Pamela

- Oct-12-2004, 10:30


I agree with this Review in Full. I was forced to read this book by the Liberal University I attend, and I can see why. The book brainwashes you to believe that the US is an evil society out to get the blue coller working man. That socialism is the answer, and capitalism is evil. But if I am not mistaken, capitalism fueled this country to have the most powerful economy in the world. That's a head scratcher. I am convinced that I could conduct the same experiment and write a book on the extreme right views, but nobody would buy it. People aren’t interested in hearing the truth. They are more interested in the feel good, do good views of the Left. I do believe there are a few people out there making minimum wage because that is the best that they can do, but I believe the majority are there because they choose not to do better. I grew up working three jobs through high school so I could go to college and have of the luxuries I have. I never asked for a handout; I just lived within my means.

- Nick

- Aug-12-2004, 13:17


No support network? They live in cities without churches?

- oj

- Aug-09-2004, 23:59


One of the many falacies in the review--namely, the "suggestions" portion--is the idea that the working poor, especially those with children, have the time, energy or *gasp* knowledge to manage a retirement fund. or be involved heartily in the educational affairs of their children (which is a large problem as we stand today). in fact, these have nothing to do with the low wages and high rents narrated throughout the book.

it's clear the reviwer has never seriously lived a life, even in a very short time, of paycheck-to-paycheck existence. and to assume that, unlike the author, most poor families have support networks! the ignorance is practically painful.

- Robbie

- Aug-09-2004, 23:52


You fellows are so cough *whitebread* cough ill-informed, I think I'm going to gag on my awesome NY calzone.

- Christine

- Jul-25-2004, 16:34


You are so quick to criticize, but would you honestly leave your lifestyle, whatever it may be, to work a crappy, minimun-wage job for a few months? Ehrenreich is not perfect, as is not your review of her book, but she made an attempt to prove something to the public, and, I think, did a damn good job of it. Anything like this written from the perspective of the ACTUAL minimum-wage worker would just have been considered as complaining and undoubtedly overlooked. Ehrenreich's actual social status and education under her belt provided her with the tools to write an accurate, literate portrayal of the status of the minimum-wage worker.

- Julia Guthrie

- Apr-20-2004, 00:06


From long involvement in tax, credit and bankruptcy law, as well as the legal/financial side of housing and health care, I must admit I am often ashamed to call myself a Christian conservative. It is easier to scold the poor and their advocates for their plight than to consider what Jesus would really do about the coexistence of complacent, unearned wealth (well protected by government) and wreched laborers who enjoy few of the protections guaranteed to all in most industrialized countries. I can name a dozen firms that have helped the vastly rich escape enough fair taxation to provide every working poor person the same housing subsidies produced by home mortgage tax exemptions. The "nominal" expatriation of corporations that profit from public (tax-paid) contracts lets them evade enough tax (with a phony POBox in the Caribbean ) as it would cost to provide quality health care for all 41 million uninsured Americans. It is neither Christian nor conservative to refuse responsibility for the well-being of one's employees or others less fortunate. I disagree with some of Ehrenreich's interpretations and proposed policy solutions, but I cannot deny her Christian witness to the plight of others created equally in God's image, I am troubled by the lack of charitable love, compassion and concern for the health of our entire economy and polity which is reflected in the meanness of reviews like yours.

- Bob Gould

- Feb-03-2004, 13:45


I'm not sure I can convey how appalled I am at your review. As far as I can tell, your ideas for "helping" the poor are to not help them at all. Did you happen to notice the ages of the people Ehrenreich was working with? Do you honestly think a 23-year-old supporting herself and two relatives can manage to save enough money for healthcare or school for her children? As responsible as she may be, extra money is eventually going to be used for emergencies. (But of course you didn't know the ages, I don't think you ever read the book.) As for Ehrenreich's political views, does "freedom of speech" mean anything to you? This is her book; if you want one that represents your point of view, why don't you go out there and do what she did? I've never heard of anyone doing what she did. Most people, me included, don't have the courage to live like the lowest of the low. And isn't this supposed to be a book review? Why are you interjecting your own ideas about how to help the poor? You are doing exactly what she did! "Freedom of religion" is apparently another idea you've never heard of. Ehrenreich clearly states that she's an atheist (again, something you'd know if you'd read the book). Would you like her to lie about her beliefs just so that she can get help? Furthermore, since she only stayed in each town a month, she would only be joining the church to take advantage of its members. Take your conservatism and stuff it!! (Oh, and try reading a book before you review it.)

- Jenn

- Jan-15-2004, 17:52


I had to read this book as part of a college course. I am appalled, I think, and thought from the beginning, that she intentionally set herself up to fail. Now, so you don't think I am a chick straight out of the nest, I am returning to school after a 10 yr absence, I have 2 kids and work full time as well as go to school full time. I did some research on the places that Barbara chose to live, were you aware that the cost of housing in Key West, FL is almost 2x the national average? With 100 being the baseline(average) Key West has a total CPI(cost of living index) of 133.6. In Portland, ME where she next decides to settle housing is about 1.5x the national average and has a total CPI of 141.5. Which brings us finally to the Minneapolis, MN area, there the cpi is only at 106.5, with housing only slightly higher than the national average, but of course remember that this is also where she only worked 1 job and turned down the higher paying job at Menard's. From these statistics alone it seems to me she researched where to move very well, knowing exactly what the results would be, what she wanted them to be. Ehrenreich also limits what jobs she will take, she could have made much more in a call center, but remeber her "personality isn't suited to it." How many people do have personalities suited to taking abuse day after day, call after call? Not anyone that I know of and I work in a call center, but we do it because the pay is worth it. As for the reader who stated that the working poor wouldn't be aware of EIC, if you qualify for it, you get it(even on a 1040-ez), and I surely hope that they are filing their taxes. I too, live in a state where the cost of living is higher than the national average, where our housing costs are close to 15% over the average yet wages lag behind the national average by over 10%, and I have held down every one of these jobs she worked, and seemed to make more on everyone of them, and this was before the economy boom. I am in full agreement with the review! If Ehrenreich and her pals had it their way we would all be brought down to the same level, paying taxes at 70% and it still would not be enough for their socialist programs.

- Marquette Smith

- Nov-21-2003, 23:35


I agree whole heartedly with the review of this book. At the beginning of the book the author spends a good amount of time explaining that she would not make a good point in this book because she was not living the lives of these people. I have lived with 5 people in a 2 bedroom apartment. I have lived with 5 people in a hotel room. I did not, however, play victem as the author does through the entire book. She makes makes every attempt to make anyone who makes any kind of money sound like a terrible person because they go to a restaurant. Heaven forbid I would like the waitress to bring my food to my table. I do understand the plight of the working poor in America and some of them live in terrible situations. Perhaps her point would have been made better if she had made an attempt to see that managers and corporations aren't as bad as she would like them to be and, perhaps, leave some of her marxist doctrine out of the book.

- Tiffany

- Aug-09-2003, 20:15


Yes, I read the book. Did you. She states quite explicitly in the beginning that the point of the book is to see how people get by. It was not supposed to be navel-gazing.

Yes, I've worked menial jobs.

No, I think I'll stay employed rather than collect welfare.

- oj

- Aug-06-2003, 23:44


I know you wrote this review a while ago, but it seems to me you did not actually read the book but glanced through it. You even got one of the cities names wrong. How can you comment on something you apparently did not read. This was a book not aimed for an explanation about welfare but about Barbara Ehrenreich's experience. So yeah she talks a lot about herself. That is the whole point. It is her experience. Have you honestly ever worked at a low paying job? probably not. If you had you would have felt half of the things that she felt. I think you should try this experience for yourself. Try to get government assistance. It is not as easy as it looks, and you do not get that much. Believe me I work for family services.

- Teresa

- Aug-06-2003, 23:35


I find it so hard to believe you actually _read_ this. It seems to me that you simply skimmed through it and found every opportunity you could to inject your own viewpoints and opinions without really looking at the details or making any real conclusions about what is right there in her account. It's obvious that Barbara had to go into it with a fictional version of herself....that's what going undercover _is_. It doesn't make the experiment or her experiences in it any less real. The problem with I have with some of your suggestions are that I doubt they would solve the problem for the vast majority of the people that are in the condition she is trying to research. A lot of the faults you seem to find in her experiment (lack of family or friends or other support system) is a reality for many of the people who are low wage earners. She does go into detail about many of the people she worked with. Some of these people _did_ have roomates, but if you had read what she wrote you would have found that it wasn't necessarily a permanent or good situation for many of the people she met. There's no guarantee that every member in the family is employed. It seemed to me that many of the people whe met didn't have family they could fall back or, or they had a husband or boyfreind that was employed. And even if they were, if there are kids in the picture, it's tough even when both parents are working. Another glaring thing you've missed that you are dealing with people who are barely eking out a survival. These are people who are so caught up in the struggle to survive, they are uneducated. I doubt many of them are aware of the EIC...and it's not likely the employers would ever care to explain. The "figures" you quote for what defines a the level at which people are considered poor are grossly underestimated if not outdated. When you take in the reality of Rent, Utilities, and if kids are involved, childcare, food, medical care (which, without insurance is incredibly expensive). It's a difficult experience, but you throw in a couple of medical emergencies with the kids, it's a nightmare. For adults, being sick means missing work, which means no pay for the time off. So they go to work when sick until they are so ill they can't work and are unemployed again. When you are struggling to survive, working long hours doing demeaning, menial work for employers that don't particularly care, it is a lot to try to overcome that to try to get an education to get beyond that. And many of these people probably have no clue how to step out to that. It's only a very few people that have the ability to overcome it with that much stacked against them. The truth is, low wage jobs are hard, demeaning and bring very little satisfaction to those who work it. Your closing reasoning negates the 4 suggestions you put forth to solve these issues. You write off the vast majority of these people stating the some people are either unwilling or unable to provide themselves. I think the number of people who are unwilling are a very small percentage. The vast majority are unable to fully provide for themselves because of many of the factors Barbara so clearly demonstrates. The truth is the cost of living in relation to low wages is completely out of control. A single mother trying to raise just one child finds it very difficult, but many have more than one child. Rents for decent, safe housing is out of reach to anyone making less that 14.00 an hour. Rents that _are_ affordable for someone making 8.50 an hour that are barely adequate are almost half or more than half of what that person brings home every month. You take into account childcare (which for one child is often 50 - 60 dollars a week. Take home pay for a single mother with one child making 8.50 an hour is around 1100 a month. Take out Rent of 550 a month, with childcare of $50.00 a week (200 a month), leaves $87.50 a week to cover utilities, food, clothing, medical. I know from experience that to feed, clothe, a small child in diapers is expensive. Even getting another job means more in child care, which may not make much of a difference. And a single mother is supposed to take care of a child doing two jobs? The truth is that your suggestions while obviously thought out don't solve the core problem of why these people are uneducated or unskilled in the first place. None of your suggestions are going to work if the vast majority of the people they are aimed at helping are under educated in the first place. I don't claim to know all the answers myself either. But I think Barbara has one thing over you and that she has actually experienced first had what you so sweepingly claim you can solve. I'd be interested in seeing how different your opinion may be if you were to do a similar experiment as to what Barbara did.

- Ancara

- Oct-14-2002, 20:48