Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Essay

Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Essay

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


Barbara Ehrenreich is a political/social journalist and writer. She is a best-selling author with a dozen book credits to her name. Her works include Blood Rites, The Worst Years of Our Lives, and Fear of Falling. She also has written articles for Time, Harpers, The New Republic, The Nation, and The New York Time Magazine. Her Ph.D. in biology endows her with the experience and discipline to approach as a scientific experiment the study resulting in her newest book, Nickel and Dimed.

Light years removed from the kind of life she would eventually enter and write about, the genesis of the book happened during an expensive luncheon meeting with a magazine editor. As the conversation topic drifted, Ehrenreich casually wondered how people get by on the low wages of the “unskilled.” “Someone ought to do the old fashioned kind of journalism...go out there and try it for themselves,” she exhorted. She didn’t really have herself in mind, but her editor challenged her with a single word, “You.”

The idea also came in the wake of sweeping welfare reform in 1996, which moved roughly four million women from the welfare rolls and into the workforce. The study Ehrenreich undertook then was to see how she could manage economically in the low wage work pool in which many such women found themselves.

To prepare for the project, Ehrenreich set up some ground rules. When looking for work she would not fall back on the use of her usual skills as a writer, and she would take the highest paying job while at the same time seek the least expensive housing that still offered privacy and safety.

Admittedly, she recognized the advantages she possessed -- good hea...


... middle of paper ...


...ess, Ehrenreich’s book has received some criticism for its lack of policy suggestions. She does not offer concrete ideas on how to remedy this situation. Some also said she did not avail herself of the aide that is available.

However, the reality is that those who need help aren’t magically endowed with the knowledge of how to receive it. In Barbara’s appeal for food assistance, it took initiative, seventy minutes of calling, driving, and nearly $3 spent in phone calls, which resulted in about $7 worth of food. In California, many of the working poor are made up of non-English speakers or those who are working here illegally. These people do not know where to start to get help or are not inclined to seek it for fear of reprisal.

I found the book well written and very eye opening to the struggles faced by millions of women - and men - in the United States.

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