Sunday, June 19, 2011

"What you don't necessarily realize when you start selling your time by the hour is that what you're really selling is your life."

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

230 pages

Genre:  Non-fiction; Sociology

Summary: Barbara Ehrenreich, a well-to-do reporter, decides to go undercover in an effort to ascertain what it’s like to be among America’s working class.   In the course of her investigation, she accepts jobs as a maid, waitress, and Wal-mart employee, respectively, in various parts of the country, and writes about her experiences in Nickel and Dimed.

Review:  When I first saw Nickel and Dimed, I was quite anxious to read it.  Even though it was written 10 years ago, the subject at hand (working Americans inability to make ends meat) is, of course, still pertinent to what the working poor experience today.  Much to my chagrin, however, I didn’t really care for this book.

My biggest annoyance with Nickel and Dimed was the author’s flippant attitude throughout.  Instead of shedding her pretensions to really get into the spirit of the investigation, she remained quite pompous and haughty throughout, never really accepting anything that she deemed “beneath her,” be it a job or sub-standard housing.  If you are truly among the working poor, you tend to take whatever you can get regardless of what it is, as you need money to support yourself and your family.  When you’re really trying to survive, you do whatever it takes. 

There was one instance in particular that really stands out in my mind, where she made a disparaging comment about people in the Midwest.  Apparently, everyone, especially if they can be found at a certain huge, anti-union discount store, is overweight, which is completely false, offensive, and an incredibly pompous generalization to make about an entire community of people.

It was also rather astonishing to me that Ehrenreich was so flabbergasted about her findings related to workers’ rights and lives.  If one has ever worked a minimum wage job, even as a teenager, one can probably relate to several of the findings in this book, if not all of them.  Are people with money really this far removed from reality?

Despite the pretension, this book did bring light to issues that tend to be swept under the rug in national discourse.  Most specifically, workers’ rights, wages, healthcare, access to quality food, and inability to secure decent places to live are important issues that the working poor face everyday.  People can’t just pull themselves up by the bootstraps and make their way out of poverty because it is a vicious, perpetual cycle that oftentimes seems impossible to escape.  By putting these issues on the table, people who were previously unaware of them have no choice but to pay attention. 

Ultimately, if you truly don’t know about what the working poor face on a daily basis, Nickel and Dimed may be worth your time.  If you are aware of what goes on, however, feel free to skip this book.

Rating:  2/5

Other Books by this Author:  Bait and Switched, Bright-sided, This Land is Their Land