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Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  183,259 ratings  ·  6,573 reviews
Millions of Americans work full-time, year-round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that any job equals a better life. But how can anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6-$7 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich moved from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published May 1st 2002 by Owl Books (Henry Holt) (first published May 8th 2001)
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Isabel I think you don't remember it because your idea of "breakfast" and Ted's differ. They can grab a donut on the way out the door. As I recall, that's th…moreI think you don't remember it because your idea of "breakfast" and Ted's differ. They can grab a donut on the way out the door. As I recall, that's the extent of breakfast. It's not pancakes, eggs, sausage, that kind of thing. Just some quick carbs that you can eat with your hands.(less)

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Aug 17, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Paris HIlton's parents
Dear Barbara Ehrenreich,

How do I resent thee? Let me count the ways:

1. You are a wealthy, highly educated person who went on a half-assed, anthropological slumming vacation.

2. When said vacation was over, you told your coworkers: "Surprise! I'm not a poor person after all! I'm going back now to my comfortable life!"...and then you were surprised that those coworkers were mostly worried about the fact that they'd have to work the next shift with one less person.

3. You also were surprised that th
Jul 18, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
Shelves: pastreads
(warning, a nerve has been touched!)
I have experience working with and researching programs that aid the poor and working poor. I hated this book. The only role it could play is as a weak talking piece for starting up serious discussion about the struggles and needs of the poor.

Barbara Ehrenreich may have stepped outside her comfort zone and into the world of the working poor, but she did it with an educated background, with money "just in case", with a pompous attitude, and with the requirement
Jul 16, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: anyone who has never worked a demeaning job
The two sentence summary of this book is: PhD and respected writer decides to find out how the other two-thirds live. To this end she goes undercover as an unskilled laborer at three minimum wage jobs (waitress, Wal-mart employee and Merry-Maid) each in a different city, each for one month.

Things I liked:
The premise.

Things I hated:
1. Her shocked tone of discovery. Newsflash! Living on minimum wage is hard/nigh on impossible! Educated people have it pretty easy comparatively! Entry level minimum
Laurie Anderson
May 30, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book seriously pissed me off. Normally I don't write reviews for books that I loathe, but I'm making an exception for this one. It has enjoyed tremendous popularity, and thus has misinformed a whole lot of people.

In the late 1990s, the author (I've enjoyed some of her other books) decided to explore the challenges of low-wage American workers by pretending to live and work like one of them in three areas of the country. She gave herself a small amount of cash at the start of each journey, a
Nandi Crawford
I'm going to step on some toes here and I apologize if I do. I AM one of the working poor that she talks about here and I DO believe in pulling myself up and making a better life for myself. But what I want to know is this. Unless you have been where I am, how can you comment? How can you also call her a bleeding heart? Is this a country for the haves only? And the have nots just have not? uhh uhh, I just don't understand. We got an election coming up and some folks are fussing about this countr ...more
Okay, I suddenly got a Like on my non-review of this book, so I'm going to say a few words about it, which I've thought off and on for a while.

I've seen very put-downish reviews here on GR about the book, and more so about the author.

It's held that Ehrenreich was a fake, had no idea what the working poor face, was just trying to make a buck off them, the book totally discredited because she had money and could just walk away when she was finished, or if she got in trouble, yada yada.

This sort o
Here's a down and dirty assessment of Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich:

First the positive:
- Interesting premise: writer decides to try to live on the wages that unskilled workers (waitresses, home/hotel cleaners, department store [Walmart, for instance] clerks) earn to see if she can do it and see if she learns anything in the process.
- She exposes some very unethical (even illegal) employer practices such as withholding a worker’s first paycheck until the second pay period.
- She notes so
Sep 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Carmen by: Book Store
Ehrenreich, a woman who has a Ph.D., goes "undercover" working low-paying jobs to see if one can earn a living with such work in America.

One can't.

She tries to make ends meet on the following jobs: waitressing, hotel housekeeping, Maid Service, nursing-home attendant, and Wal-Mart employee, often working two jobs at a time.

This shocking exposé reveals the horrific conditions that the "working poor" toil under. Well, at least they're shocking to someone who's never had to struggle to make ends me
Nov 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Very quick explanation of the premise of this one: a woman, who is a writer/journalist, is talking to her publisher about what she wants to write about next and says, “someone ought to write a book about how hard it is to get by on the minimum wage in America.” The publisher says, “Okey-dokey (the book is set in the US so I’m trying to give you a feeling of verisimilitude) you’ve hired.” (High fives all around)

Before I started this book I really worried. I mean, I’m a bit of a worrier anyway – b
else fine
Sep 13, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: george w. bush
When this book came out, I was working in a busy bookstore in a fairly small town. We had a stack of them at the counter, and I read bits on my breaks. While I was glad to see a popular book addressing the problems of the working poor, I couldn't help but feel like she'd taken a vacation in my life and then made a bunch of money writing a book about it, something she could only have achieved because she had already been in a position of privilege. Your average house cleaner, lacking an advanced ...more
Oct 14, 2007 rated it did not like it
I wanted to like this book. I thought the premise was fantastic. But overall, as someone who actually has lived on minimum wage (even supporting a child on minimum wage back when minimum wage was scary low), this book comes up short in several ways.

First of all, Barbara Ehrenreich has a horribly privileged, ivory tower view of how poor people must live. While she does talk to some people who are scraping by, she assumes the majority of poor people make the same crummy decisions as the few to who
Jun 13, 2016 rated it really liked it

Welfare reform in the mid-1990s was meant to get people off the welfare rolls and into the workforce. As the U.S. had a strong economy at the time, and jobs were plentiful, this was supposed to work out pretty well all around. The problem was that most 'unskilled jobs' paid minimum wage (which was six to seven dollars/hour at the time) and this just wasn't enough to support a parent and child - much less a larger family.

In 1998 Barbara Ehrenreich - a political activist and writer - decided to t
I wanted to hate this book. I bought it with the intention of hating it. Overeducated liberal writer slumming it on minimum wage, to prove what? That minimum wage is not livable? Well who ever said it was? And looking at the reviews it’s clear this book is a Rorschach test for poverty, anyone poor enough to relate to the indignities she describes will invariable feel some resentment at the minimum wage martyr act, flagellating herself with your everyday life. And how easy it was for me especiall ...more
Feb 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
“When someone works for less pay than she can live on — when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently — then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The 'working poor,' as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that ot ...more
I read this in honor of Labor Day.

"Nickel and Dimed" has been on my radar for years. It's considered a modern classic in several disciplines, including journalism, sociology and economics. Starting in 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich spent several months working low-wage jobs in different cities around the United States in an attempt to experience what it was like to be one of America's working poor. She wondered how anyone could possibly live on wages available to the unskilled, which at the time was a
Doc Opp
Jul 17, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: airplane_reads
If you're looking for socialist propaganda - full of rhetorical tricks and short on evidence, then this is the book for you. If, however, you're hoping for an unbiased treatment of the life of the poor, a reasonable economic/policy analysis of poverty, or any sort of insight into American culture, then this book will be profoundly disappointing.

There are some interesting issues covered, such as wage inequalities and the plight of the urban poor, but that's really all I can say in its favor. The
Jan 16, 2008 rated it did not like it
As someone who grew up as part of the "working poor," I have had all of these kinds of jobs myself at one time or another. Most of my family members still do. So for me, Nickel and Dimed was kind of a big "DUH." I mean, seriously, does any of this come as a surprise to anyone? Did anyone ever really think it was easy to make ends meet off of a low/minimum wage job? It's a preposterous idea.

In my opinion, Ehrenreich's writing has a patronizing undertone, and seeks to make the reader feel pity for
Jan 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A classic now in the field, and I've long used an excerpt from this in my Intro. Sociology reader for our week on Poverty in the U.S. Still, I remind students that this is the only author we read that doesn't have the "street cred" of a "real" sociologist, some "union card" (Ph.D., mostly) as a behavioral or social scientist, or social theorist or philosopher of some sort, as Ehrenreich is a...gasp....journalist! (I'm reminded of perhaps my own bias about this as I was critical of the layperson ...more
Nov 22, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: crybabies, entitlement wonks, NE1 who is never worked
WAA, WAAAA, hooooo

What was the publisher thinking? Letting a biology Ph.d write an economics book. There are so many economic inaccuracies in this book they are too numerous to mention. The most important theory she mangles is that she thinks wages she should be raised even if there are enough employees to hire at piss-poor wages. She believes that (she eludes to it, but never makes the point clearly) it is the employers responsibility to provide enough wage to make sure everyone
Oct 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
I think the entire point of this book was to 'prove' that minimum wage jobs by their very nature and pay scale CANNOT support people, even people with all the advantages she had (and none of the additional disadvantages the poor often have.)

I don't see this book as even trying to be any kind of an exhaustive look at all the difficulties facing those truly living in poverty and attempting to get by.

What I do see it as is an attempt to prove to middle-income Americans that even with all the benefi
Aug 06, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Zweegas by: Scott Knapp
So, the author got paid to wait tables in Florida, clean homes in Maine, and organize clothes at Wal-Mart in Minnesota. All right, all of that is completely believable. What's difficult to comprehend is that she also gets paid to write books.

She makes a lot of great points, but the style she does it with is totally condescending. She's so pleased with her own concept that she cannot help but remind readers at least every ten or so pages that she's actually very highly educated. "You might think
Sep 29, 2007 rated it did not like it
Ergh. I read this book while in grad school, taking an anthropology class.

I was also earning a whopping $5.83 an hour, and reading this book just made me grind my teeth.

Totally fatuous piece of crap. It STILL ticks me off.

I felt like she was so patronizing and rude. It seemed like yet another case of some stupid rich white person talking about the plight of the poor and the downtrodden, all while doing absolutely NOTHING to help alleviate it. Not to mention whining about how hard it is. URGH.

Diane in Australia
I'm all for anyone who takes the time to shine a spotlight on the hellish existence of many folks with low-paying jobs. Therefore, I do appreciate Barbara's book. I spent many years in that life, and it's hard, very hard. At times she came across as being 'better' than the folks she was working with, which kind of rubbed me the wrong way. But, all in all, at least her book draws attention to the plight of the low-wage earner.

Minimum wage jobs in the U.S. suck ... big time ... especially waitress
Jan 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the books I've been meaning to read since it was first published. The author's exploration of low-wage jobs in Modern America is interesting while discouraging. She lightens the mood with a wry sense of humor. She worked at the sort of dead-end jobs I did before I graduated from college. Of course I wasn't trying to live on the peon wages since I lived at home. The pace moves right along, and I never drifted away from my reading. All in all, it met my expectation as a good book to ...more
Dec 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
I picked this up and read it in one day. I also checked the stats for 2007 since the copyright for this was 2001. It really made my blood boil at times and I have "been there and done that" as an employee. I am currently looking for work and even with a B.A., good paying jobs with benefits are impossible to find. Everyone who reads this will hopefully understand the "working poor" and treat them better.

Ehrenreich turns her gimlet eye on the view from the workforce's bottom rung. Determined to fi
Sep 02, 2008 rated it it was ok
DISCLAIMER: This is my rant on the “classic Marxist rant” by Barbara Ehrenreich in the form of Nickel and Dimed. REALLY. I am not saying that we should not help poor people. I am mostly just annoyed by the author. If my political ranting will bother you, please don't read this. AND if you do, you are not allowed to think less of me. You may disagree, but know that I actually am a nice, caring, empathetic person. :)

Unfortunately, Ehrenreich did not present much shocking or new information in her
Skylar Burris
Raise your hand if you have ever worked a minimum wage job. (It wasn't pleasant, was it?) Now, keep your hand raised if you STILL work a minimum wage job. Whoa. A lot of hands just went down. A LOT. And that is the point Barbara Ehrenreich doesn't entertain.

While Nickel and Dimed is interesting and in some ways eye-opening, it isn’t a particularly well-researched or well-argued economic or social commentary. It’s more of a journalism feature with some editorial opinions thrown in. The rhetoric
Oct 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociology
update: If you are in any doubt as to the facts of how things are for the enormous underclass in the US who makes the profits for Starbucks and Amazon and the rest, try this 'game' and make the daily confronting decisions to try to survive a month:


Consider that this horrifying indictment of American capitalism was published in 2002, well before the dehumanising 'gig' platforms ripped through whole industries, destroying the conditions, such as th
Mar 19, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: assigned-reading
For the most part, this is a really eye-opening read. It describes an experiement by journalist Barbara Ehrenreich where she takes a series of minimum wage jobs (waitress, hotel maid, housekeeper, nursing home aide, and Wal-Mart employee) and tries to survive on the earnings from those jobs. "Surviving," it turns out, means living in crappy hotels and eating fast food while trying to keep two jobs. Her descriptions of the dirty secrets of the jobs she takes are really interesting - when she clea ...more
Jun 17, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Fake Liberals.
After I originally wrote this review in 2008, I spent nearly the entire next decade working in employment services helping individuals with barriers to employment (disabilities, mental illness, felonies) find and keep jobs. Viewed in the light of that experience, I find this book even more outrageous. Misguided and offensive, her little social experiment has no basis in reality.
Author Barb Ehrenreich's (as in Third Reich) personal politics seem to lie somewhere on the spectrum between Chairman
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Nickel and Dimed 10 70 Oct 17, 2018 09:18AM  
Book Review: Nickel and Dimed 1 5 Aug 21, 2017 09:44PM  
Book Review: Nickel and Dimed 1 3 Aug 21, 2017 07:23PM  
Socialist propaganda or a true account of people's struggle to make it in America? 89 580 Jul 21, 2017 09:02PM  
Madison Mega-Mara...: Don’t Have Two Nickels to Rub Together 1 3 Nov 04, 2016 02:41PM  
woof. 42 410 Mar 04, 2015 09:40AM  
Off The Shelf: NICKEL & DIMED 4 16 Nov 27, 2014 09:39PM  

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Barbara Ehrenreich is an American journalist and the bestselling author of sixteen previous books, including the bestsellers Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. A frequent contributor to Harpers and The Nation, she has also been a columnist at The New York Times and Time Magazine.

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“When someone works for less pay than she can live on — when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently — then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The 'working poor,' as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.” 78 likes
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