Nickel and Dimed

Nickel and Dimed, a 2001 non-fiction book by Barbara Ehrenreich, shows us what it's really like to live and work in the world of poverty wages. 

book cover

Nickel and Dimed is depressing because it's true. What this author finds in her travels from Key West, Florida to Minneapolis, Minnesota, working low-paying jobs, is that it's next to impossible to make ends meet on a minimum wage salary. Her jobs include waitress, house cleaner, nursing home aide, and finally, an associate at Wal-Mart.

She has no children to feed, no one to be responsible for other than herself.

She has a car. She is free of the worries a parent might have to find someone to watch the children, and perhaps to find transportation to and from work. She doesn't have to stretch the food dollars to feed another person or persons from paycheck to paycheck.

When it is so difficult for one person to live like this day after day, it's hard to imagine how anyone with children can possibly survive in such circumstances.

In Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich describes her job searches, the deplorable working conditions in the ones she accepts, and the horrible places she can barely afford to live on her meager salary.

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Just the thought of spending one night in the kind of low-rent, inconvenient, and sometimes downright dangerous places she describes is terrifying.

One place she lived in had only a ragged screen on the (one) window. Another place had no screen at all. Imagine raising children in a place like that!

To make matters worse, these places were often quite a distance from where the jobs were.

Some places had no stoves or refrigerators, which meant cheap fast food. No nice restaurants in those neighborhoods!

People in these situations often do not have enough to eat. Most of what they do eat could not be called healthy, by any stretch of the imagination.

Healthcare is out of the question. Any time off work for a doctor's appointment means even less money for food, and possibly the loss of one's job. Employees who are sick or hurt are often 'encouraged' to "work through the pain."

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My thoughts:

This should not be happening in the wealthiest country in the world.

Clearly, minimum wage was not nearly enough to live on in the days Nickel and Dimed was written. Today, in 2020, many people are still working for minimum wage, and sometimes even less.

The price of everything has gone up considerably, while so many lawmakers continue to fight raising the minimum wage.

How are people supposed to survive with any degree of comfort on wages such as these? How will they raise and educate their children?

This book describes in detail the hardships endured in an existence such as this.

The author lived under these conditions only a few months. To live this kind of life daily with little hope of change for the better is unimaginable.

Nickel and Dimed was challenged in a couple of Pennsylvania schools, citing the book as faddish, having no moral value, and being obscene.

It has also been criticized as promoting economic fallacies and socialist ideas, as well as profanity, offensive references to Christianity, and a biased portrayal of capitalism.

In Topeka and Shawnee County Kansas Public Library, the book was restricted because the organization, Kansas for Common Sense, deemed the book "harmful to minors under state law."

At the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Republican lawmakers objected to the book being selected for a summer reading program, citing a "pattern" of the university being "anti-Christian."

(Source: Marshall University library.)

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