An often scathing analysis of the economic costs to women who choose to have children. The author has done serious research on the topic, and also preAn often scathing analysis of the economic costs to women who choose to have children. The author has done serious research on the topic, and also presents wide-ranging information on related topics in marriage and women's employment outside the home. The chapters on divorce, and what current practice says about the value placed on women and children, are particularly fresh and alarming. The writing is rigorous yet very readable. Not to be missed....more
I was moved to reskim this book today to write a review, in order to refer to it in my next post, but partly because I discovered that many reviews arI was moved to reskim this book today to write a review, in order to refer to it in my next post, but partly because I discovered that many reviews are so different from mine. In this project, essayist Barbara Ehrenreich tried to survive in low-wage jobs in three different American cities. Acknowledging that she starts with an unrealistic level of good health and cash, she chronicles her back-breaking days as a restaurant server, housecleaner, and Wal-Mart associate, as well as her ultimate failure to make her budget work.
One critique that comes up a lot is that Ehrenreich is flippant, and in particular flippant as an outsider. I don't think that this is unfair, but it never surprised me. Ehrenreich's mordant humor is how she points out the absurd unfairness of it all and engages the reader on her side.
The other critique is that the book is pointless, or just a patronizing frivolity, because who could possibly not already know these things? That's the one I want to respond to: let me introduce you to me, in 2001, when this book came out and I first read it.* I had recently graduated debt-free from Yale and moved to Manhattan; having grown up in a community that people moved to for its public schools, I had hardly ever met anyone without a four-year college degree. Social media and viral content barely existed, so while I spent a good amount of time on the Internet, content published there often consisted of more voices of the privileged. I worked in book publishing, where we got summer Friday afternoons off to escape to our (ha!) country houses before traffic got bad.
The idea that being poor is itself hard work, that it consists of being constantly judged and told what you should have done, that the setbacks pile on each other to ruin your every plan to improve your lot--I've heard these things in a lot of different ways and from different voices, in 2016, but this book is undoubtedly where I heard them first. I've voted, shopped, tipped, interacted with other people, and looked at the world differently since I read this book. In fact, it's one of two or three books that inspired me to reserve five-star ratings for books that really changed the way I look at things.
I can't dispute the reasons other people didn't like it, but I have to rate it based on the effect it had on my life. Read today, the most striking thing about this account is how impossible it was for Ehrenreich to break even, even in the rollicking late Clintonian economy of 1999-2000. In each of the three cities where she tries to make it, rent is the factor that breaks her budget. More on this in my next review.
*There's a ballet ticket stub for 6/1/2001 in my copy of this book....more