Cait's Reviews > Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
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192001
's review
Jul 16, 2007

did not like it
bookshelves: true-stories-that-are-amazing
Recommended 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 wage work is kind of demeaning!

2. Her colonial-anthropologist-among-the-natives style that came across (to me) as super patronizing. Don't these people understand that easy office jobs are just on the other side of a college degree? Don't they understand history enough to fight for unions?

3. Her total shock that no one found her out as an educated person! Working in a diner in the next town over, she was never recognized! Shock!

4. This mostly just lost her style points, but she made a point to always have a working car (it wasn't HER car, but she rented a working car in every city she went to) and had a thousand (two thousand?) dollars of start-up capital to pay first and last months rent and eat while waiting for a job. I think her cover story (which again, she was hurt when no one asked for/cared about) was that she was a newly divorced former stay at home wife, on her own for the first time- so I guess it's conceivable she would have had a little cushion- but I would have found it much more interesting if she'd actually committed to the premise a little more. Especially because she was there such a short time. I know that working minimum wage jobs isn't fun, but couldn't you commit to more than a month? What do you find out in a month?

5. This is really the one that gets me- at the end of her time with the Merry Maids she "comes out" to her co-workers, telling them that really, she's a PhD! And writing a book! The main response is "So you won't be here to cover your shift tomorrow." Once again she is shocked and hurt! But man, if there was ever a teaching moment, she's been working with these women at back-breaking, soul sucking work for no pay and she's surprised that they're worried about how they're going to get though the next day? AGH.

(And also, WTF was she spending money on? I'm also a single healthy person with no debt or dependents and a working car, and I spend less than a thousand dollars a month sustaining my life style. I don't think I live THAT cheaply.)

It just seemed like she was writing from this privileged bubble of white upper-crust academia that I didn't know existed. She was presenting as astonishing findings what I assume to be facts of life for a majority of people.

So. That is why I didn't like this book. My mom, on the other hand, who has actually worked as a waitress to support herself, loved it.
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Reading Progress

01/31/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

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message 1: by Susan (new)

Susan I'm curious to know what made you dislike this book. I haven't read it. I just value your opinion :).


message 2: by Cait (new) - rated it 1 star

Cait I ranted out my character limit so I edited back to coherency- I promise I don't normally write in bullet points. 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 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 wage work is kind of demeaning!

2. Her colonial-anthropologist-among-the-natives style that came across (to me) as super patronizing. Don't these people understand that easy office jobs are just on the other side of a college degree? Don't they understand history enough to fight for unions?

3. Her total shock that no one found her out as an educated person! Working in a diner in the next town over, she was never recognize! Shock!

4. This mostly just lost her style points, but she made a point to always have a working car (it wasn't HER car, but she rented a working car in every city she went to) and had a thousand (two thousand?) dollars of start-up capital to pay first and last months rent and eat while waiting for a job. I think her cover story (which again, she was hurt when no one asked for) was that she was a newly divorced former stay at home wife, on her own for the first time- so I guess it's conceivable she would have had a little cushion- but I would have found it much more interesting if she'd actually committed to the premise a little more. Especially because she was there such a short time. I know that working minimum wage jobs isn't fun, but couldn't you commit to more than a month? What do you find out in a month?

5. This is really the one that gets me- at the end of her time with the Merry Maids she "comes out" to her co-workers, telling them that really, she's a PhD! And writing a book! The main response is "So you won't be here to cover your shift tomorrow." Once again she is shocked and hurt! But man, if there was ever a teaching moment- she's been working with these women at back-breaking, soul sucking work for no pay and she's surprised that they're worried about how they're going to get though the next day? AGH.

It just seemed like she was writing from this privileged bubble of white upper-crust academia that I didn't know existed. She was presenting as astonishing findings what I assume to be facts of life for a majority of people.

(And also, WTF was she spending money on? I'm also a single healthy person with no dependents and a working car, and I spend less than a thousand dollars a month sustaining my life style. I don't think I live THAT cheaply.)

So. That is why I didn't like this book. My mom, on the other hand, who has actually worked as a waitress to support herself, loved it.


message 3: by Cait (last edited Apr 23, 2008 07:06PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Cait Oh the best part of my whole review got deleted!

When you basically agree with the premise of a book, they have to work extra hard to SAY something. I already believe that it can be very, very hard to get ahead when you're starting from low on the totem pole. I absolutely believe in the living wage, socialized medicine and Truth and Justice, so the fact that Ehrenreich provided all this indignation and then didn't go anywhere with it was pretty dang frustrating.

On the other hand, I didn't much like this book either, even though he came at this from the more or less opposite perspective and essentially got the "Happy Ever After."

Possibly, this is just not my subject.


message 4: by Susan (new)

Susan Thanks! I absolutely loved reading this! Thanks for putting the time into it. In some sense, it would probably do me good to read a book like this -- I come from an upper-middle-class childhood and went on to lead an middle-class life. OTOH, nobody needs to talk down to me to show me that getting by on minimum wage in a high-labor job is going to be difficult.


message 5: by David (new)

David hi, friend of Susan's. Saw this in my update and had to jump in!


She was presenting as astonishing findings what I assume to be facts of life for a majority of people.

My sense is that there are a lot of people who really don't get exactly how difficult it is to make it on minimum-wage jobs, and why don't these people just blah blah blh (you can fill in the blanks.)

The link you provided to that kid was a perfect example. He claims he didn't use his college education - how could he not? All that internalized knowledge about how to behave and perform? Not to mention, psychologically, he had a credit card in his back pocket, and always knew he could just use it if he had to - and he had to quit his project when someone got ill. People truly in his situation don't get that option, and often it's that one bad break of sickness or losing a job that puts them there.

You might find A Working Stiff's Manifesto interesting - it's a series of stories by a guy who worked a series of really lousy jobs (one was on one of those Alaskan fish boats) and just what the people and jobs were like.




message 6: by Will (last edited Jun 05, 2008 10:24PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Will I just had the inkling to see what people thought of this book after reading a piece by this guy Thomas Frank. For some reason, they had him linked up with Barbara Ehrenreich on Wikipedia... and I remembered how much I disliked Nickel and Dimed. Long story short, your review perfectly sums up why I hate this book like poison. Thanks.


Clickety re $1k vs $2k - moving can be very expensive. I think part of the experiment was to see if she would be able to find an apartment, which often requires two months' rent plus a security deposit. And part of the reason for the large 'cushion' is so that conservatives can't say "oh, working class people don't really have it that hard!" Her point is that most of them do not have the safeguards she allowed herself.


message 8: by Tippy (last edited May 06, 2010 05:51AM) (new)

Tippy Jackson Loved your insightful review. Thanks for the heads up. Sounds really annoying. She actually "comes out" to the waitresses? "I'm not really one of you," type things? Wow. Just Wow.


Cactus Wren Where, specifically, does Ehrenreich express herself as "shocked and hurt" that no one commented on her statement, "I'm writing a book"? Or as "hurt" that no one asked about her background story? Page references, please.


message 10: by Wyndslash (new)

Wyndslash i think her experiment would have been more effective if she did it for a year. that way she could perhaps truly appreciate the plight of the working class.


message 11: by Eric (new)

Eric Brosch Ditto, ditto, ditto! As compared to documentaries like "Super Size Me", I was astonished at how little she committed to the role.


message 12: by Carolyn (new) - added it

Carolyn Snow The problem is... that "privileged bubble of white uppercrust academia" very much exists. And they have no fucking clue what it's like to live as a poor person.


message 13: by Marie (new) - rated it 1 star

Marie Brenner "It just seemed like she was writing from this privileged bubble of white upper-crust academia that I didn't know existed. She was presenting as astonishing findings what I assume to be facts of life for a majority of people"

Exactly!


message 14: by Liam (new) - rated it 3 stars

Liam Arne Completely concur with your assessment. I am an ardent defender of the core values and concepts being explored in "Nickel and Dimed", but her haughty tone turned me off so deeply. I resolved with a generous three-star rating.


message 15: by Caryn (new) - added it

Caryn Thanks for this review. I've been told by numerous people that it is a 'must-read' eye-opener and I've always wanted to read it. My personal finances however force me to be very discerning with my book-buying addiction - even online, & I live in Hong Kong, it's not at the library here, so it would have been something of an investment. I'm glad I've found your review because it saves me from wasting that investment. Based on WHAT you didn't like about the book, I don't think I'd like it either. And THIS is what this site is supposed to do! Yippy, it's working! Thanks,


message 16: by John (new) - rated it 1 star

John Behle Cait--yes, yes, 1000 times yes. I just posted my review and agree.


Janet My next "book" will be all of these reviews and comments.


Sequoia YYYYYYYYYYYESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS... Fully agree with your review.


Izabel Revier I agree 100%, how shocking that living in poverty is so difficult. Poof! Mind blown, Barbara, mind blown.


message 20: by Noah (new) - rated it 2 stars

Noah I agree


Artanya I agree with you, she used her money from her previous life as a safety net in case things didn't go how she expected them to.


message 22: by Noah (new) - rated it 2 stars

Noah I agree, Barbara seemed like she did not learn anything from being "poor". After she was done being "poor" she did not do anything to help the ones who were close to her she just left them. It seemed like she treated the whole game like a game and that is not cool.


message 23: by Nils (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nils Montan Why don’t all you poor people write a book on the subject since you disliked this one so much.


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