Nickel and Dimed:
On [Not] Getting By in America

by Barbara Ehrenreich


Metropolitan Books, NY, 2001. ISBN 0805063889.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 02/21/2002

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Active Life

No wonder so many of the poor in America are overweight and have poor health. They can not afford to eat well, even if they are lucky enough to have access to a kitchen. Even those fortunate enough to have some kind of health insurance often must pay a large deductible. No wonder 80% of Medicare money goes to the poor elderly. Most of them are women.

Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich spends a month in each of three cities in the United States and writes about trying to get by on a minimum wage. She barely makes it only by working two jobs and living in rooms without windows, motels without locks, and leaky trailers. I have come away from Ehrenreich's book vowing always to tip well, to be more conscious of how the invisible live, and to give when people ask. I have come away ready to write more letters to my state representatives.

What she learns, and in turn, teaches is how hard it is to come home [such as it is] to write after working hard with few breaks and eating poorly. She also learns that in all of these jobs people look out for each other, and that even in these menial jobs, one must use her mind. "The first thing I discovered is that no job, no matter how lowly, is truly 'unskilled.'"

Nickel and Dimed is a consciousness raising event.

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