Nickel and Dimed

February 9, 2009

There are thousands of struggling Americans working at low wage jobs earning little to nothing. They can barely afford to pay for their basic living needs like food, shelter, and clothing. In 1998 Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them in her book Nickel and Dimed. She was inspired by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reforms of the time and the idea that any job would equal a better life. She wondered, though, how anyone could survive, let alone do well, on $6-$7 an hour. To find out, Ehrenreich decided to go out into the world and do her own research. She moved from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, taking the cheapest lodgings available, and working as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing home aide, and Wal-Mart salesperson. She soon discovered in each city that even the lowest occupations required grueling mental and physical efforts. One job is not enough; Ehrenreich needed at least two if she intended to live indoors.

Ehrenreich's easy to read novel is suitable for all ages. Through her personal experiences and statistics, the minimum wage life is fully exposed. By immersing herself into the working life style, Ehrenreich was able 'to see whether [she] could match income to expenses, as the truly poor attempt to do everyday' (Ehrenreich 6). Through her dialogue with her fellow coworkers, the daily difficulties of living and trying to get by on a minimum wage income is chronicled.

After reading the novel, one will have a better understanding of the work force. Ehrenreich's experiences have changed the way people view minimum wage workers. When they were one people viewed as lazy and unmotivated, the book shows that these people can not move up the social ladder even with numerous low paying jobs. Laziness is not the problem; the lack of income is. Barbara Ehrenreich's investigational novel, Nickel and Dimed not only changed the way people view minimum wage workers, but also spread the idea of social reform.

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