Book: Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

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

Nickel and Dimed
Nickel and Dimed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s really so much to think about and discuss in this book.  We chose to read this for group supervision at work and I am sad that I will miss the discussion.  In the book, Ms. Ehrenreich touches on so many things without hitting you over the head with any of them.

The author faced housing, nutrition, and safety concerns, language and communication differences, and the difficulty and run-around with obtaining services or applying for jobs.  She went into the experiment acknowledging that she would not suffer; she refused to go hungry or be homeless during the experiment.   She had a debit card at the ready and a reserve of cash she started with.  She also acknowledges the privilege she comes from and was often amazed that her employers did not recognize it in her.

Because of the book, I reviewed my Ruby Payne book “A Framework to Understand Poverty,” found a website with a “game” about living at the poverty level ( and tuned into some Ted Talks about “The Quest to End Poverty.”  It’s always good when a book leads you down a path to explore and learn more.

Have you read this book?  What parts of it will you remember?

my Goodreads review:

Very engaging writing and interesting subject. I was worried that this book would be “dated,” since it was published in 2001 with her social experiment taking place in 1999/2000. But the information is still relevant, maybe even more so, as we are no longer in those same economic times.

Things I will remember:

  • The difficulty in finding housing, especially housing near the job. Especially in Minneapolis. Living in substandard hotels/motels and paying by the week would be frustrating. Common sense would say that living near where you work would be most cost effective, but where the jobs are tends to have more expensive housing costs. So then there is dependence on your own vehicle or public transportation.
  • The hard, backbreaking work without break. Or if not backbreaking, the monotonous work while standing on your feet.
  • The personality tests required by most minimum wage jobs she applied for. And the rule about not talking to each other while working at Walmart.
  • The second to last paragraph of the book:

    “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. …”

    That was a powerful paragraph for me.

I am glad I read this book – it was easy and light with an impactful message.

Written at the end of a 12-hour overnight shift… hopefully it is coherent and sensical! 

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