Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich

Cover ImageFinished 9-14-10, rating 4/5, non-fiction, pub. 2001

Journalist Ehrenreich sets out to discover if a single woman can support herself on a low-income budget.  She tries waitressing in Key West, housekeeping in Portland, Maine, and retail (Walmart) in Minneapolis. She spends a month in each place and must find herself housing and work and see if she can make it work.  She also starts with a buffer of $1,000 and a car.  She doesn’t use any of her money for entertainment, in fact in two cities she has to get a second job just to make ends meet.

16. Nickel and Dimed takes place in 1998-2000, a time of unprecedented prosperity in America.  Do you think Ehrenreich’s experience would be different in today’s economy?

A Reader’s Guide, Questions for Discussion

Given the state of the economy and the rise in poverty this has just as much relevance today as it did when Ehrenreich wrote it.  She worked low paying jobs, but had all the advantages (single, educated, white, healthy, native English speaker, owned own transportation) and still could not make it.  At least in the short run.  I think the weakest part of the book was the short run of her trials.  It would have been interesting to see how different her experience might have been if she had tried one of the stops for a longer term.  The result may have been different. 

There were a few surprises.  She didn’t have a problem finding a job and the lack of housing in Minneapolis.  I also learned a few things. Don’t hire a maid and how to beat a drug test.  Most of the book was not unexpected, only eye-opening to most of us who don’t live it everyday.

This book is an important read.  I think if more people read it it would be more difficult to vilify people who want to work and do, but still can’t afford to live without help.  Do yourself a favor and take a look.  It might challenge some assumptions.

This is from my personal library and was chosen by Candice, Jennifer, Margot, Heather, Colleen, and Angie.  Here’s what they had to say…

“I’ve never read this one myself, but my sister did and she enjoyed it so much that she was reading passages out loud to me.”  Angie

“Eye-opening first person account of a journalist’s experiences as a member of the working poor. Challenged many of my assumptions.”  Colleen

“One of my all-time favorites.”  Margot

“This was an eye-opening look at how the working poor barely get by and IMO, a must read.”  Jennifer