Review: Nickel And Dimed

What is this – nevillegirl reviews a nonfiction book?! Does nevillegirl even read nonfiction books? Why yes we do, my precious. There, I’ve channeled Dobby and Gollum in the same paragraph. Dobby refers to himself in the third person.) Anyway, I do indeed read nonfiction books but somehow haven’t reviewed many (any?) here yet. I love good nonfiction; some of my favorite books in that genre were written by Bill Bryson and Joy Hakim.

Barbara Ehrenreich was (and still is, as far as I’m aware) a fairly well-known journalist when she began thinking about the struggles of the very poor – how did they survive, she wondered, on minimum wage? Someone suggested that she should live that way for a while to see if it was possible. So she tried it. Ehrenreich worked as a waitress and hotel maid in Florida, a clean woman and nursing home aide in Maine, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk in Minnesota. Sometimes she got by fairly well, but in other places she put in long hours of hard work for very little money.

I’d read several favorable reviews of this book and knew that my mom and aunt really liked it. However, I was mainly interested in it because I work a minimum-wage job. I wash dishes from eight in the morning until close (anywhere from 3:30 to 4:30) one weekend day a week for a little over seven dollars an hour. It’s a decent job; it’s helping to pay for college. It’s not particularly difficult mentally, but it does require a lot of energy and sometimes a lot of strength to lift the heavy trays of dishes. It keeps me on my feet all day. It’s rather boring because I do the same things over and over. Unlike writing, where I feel like I actually accomplish something, I occasionally feel that this task is useless: the dishes just get dirty once again. As soon as I do my job, people are undoing it and the stacks of plates begin to pile up. All this means that I’m very glad that my job is only one day a week because I don’t think I could handle more than that, at least right now. I have lots of other things to do and besides, it’s hard, dull work.

But what if I had to work this job five, six, or seven days a week, to make just enough to live? Nickel and Dimed was fascinating because it gave me a look at how physically hard and mentally infuriating that would be. As I wrote earlier, Ehrenreich often worked long hours for very little pay – and yet she was not respected for doing so. Instead, she was often regarded as stupid and unhelpful. The well-to-do have the attitude that, “Someone has to do those menial jobs, but it shouldn’t be me!” but then they don’t treat those workers decently either.

However, what interested and angered me more was that some of the owners or companies that Ehrenreich worked for treated their workers extremely poorly. In particular, Wal-Mart refuses to let its workers form unions because that would mean that the workers would demand basic rights. I was very happy to see that some Wal-Mart workers planned to go on strike on Black Friday. They should.

So can someone live on minimum wage? It turns out that they can – but just barely. And there are a lot of ‘buts’ in that answer. They can survive, but they might have to live in dangerous areas because they can actually pay the rent for homes in those neighborhoods. They can survive, but they won’t have enough money to buy healthy food. They can survive, but they will probably never make enough money to get out of their situation; they’ll always be making just enough to get by, but not much more.

I think this is a book that everyone needs to read. It’s Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle for our time; it’s modern-day muckracking. If you’ve ever felt irritated because you didn’t get instant gratification while at a restaurant or store, you especially need to read this book. (And that’s pretty much everyone, right?) I know that it’s annoying when a waitress takes forever to bring your food or whatever, but you have to understand that they work very hard for very little money and receive very little respect. We often look at the poor and/or those on welfare as lazy people who need to go to work, but the truth is that a lot of them do work. And yet for all the effort and hours they put in, they still aren’t getting paid enough to reasonably live on.

Rating: 3/5


About nevillegirl

Elizabeth. University of Iowa class of 2019. Triple majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies. Twenty-one-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, aspiring writer, and lesbian. Passionate about feminism, mental health, comic books, and cats.
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12 Responses to Review: Nickel And Dimed

  1. Miriam Joy says:

    That sounds like an interesting book. I wonder if anyone has carried out a similar experiment in the UK? (Because, obviously, the prices of things–and the minimum wage–are all different.) I don’t have a job, mainly because I physically don’t have time. I did give my CV to a bookshop, but they weren’t hiring anyone else at the time, so that didn’t go anywhere. Hopefully, soon-ish I’ll start earning from writing, maybe, and that’ll help.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Yes, that would be interesting. What is the minimum wage in the UK? (In pounds is OK)

      What’s a CV?

      My dad keeps trying to get me to find some way I can make money off blogging, since I write short stuff rather than book-length stories…

  2. Hello! I made some covers to chide you over until I get back home tomorrow evening. The title may be wrong (I really don’t know) and the pictures are wrong also, but I’ve been sick today and I have to go pick up a horse tomorrow, so maybe one of these will work until I get a new one made?


  3. I have to say I’m one of those reasonably well to do people who feel the menial jobs need to be done… and if I had to, I’d do them. I”ll be making sure my kids work for minimum wage at some point in their life. I did the grocery store cashier, followed by the slightly higher copy center cleark at a place of scientists (forget about being sane, geniuses have no common sense… oh sorry reference to your title post *grins*). My hubby was a dish dog and then a gril cook.

    Anyway – I’m the one who patiently waits behind the school bus, or grabage truck, wishing it wouldn’t be so awkward to shout ‘THANK YOU’ to those people doing thier part to keep the wrold running. (I do try to tip well) :}

    • nevillegirl says:

      I think that’s a good idea. I wasn’t too thrilled about the idea of getting a job (my parents wanted me to get one to help pay for college, as I wrote in the post) and it’s boring and hard, but I have a better appreciation for how HARD this stuff is. And I think dishwashing is a lot of work, but all the waitresses where I work have told me that they’d much rather have my job. I think because I don’t have to work with people very often…

      Geniuses have no common sense? *obviously doesn’t, because she can’t remember what that refers to* I don’t think it’s likely that you’re referring to a favorite book, All Men of Genius, because hardly anyone knows about that book. (And the five or so who do had it recommended to them by me. ^_^ xD)

      • “Geniuses have no common sense” is from my own experience with scientists from my work at the above mentioned Copy center – Don’t know if you’ve heard of WHOI (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute – Dr. Bob Ballard from there is famous for finding the Titanic) – anywaythat place, pul two others all used the Libary the copy center was attached to and I had the summer fun of meeting professors and research scientist and students from many walks of life – I swear the better the scientist was at research and discovery the less common sense they had – one of them set fire to his waste basket because he was trying to dry his bathing suit with a space heater (I must qualify this with the fact the library was so old it had no AC, and Cape Cod summers a humid! That place got stuffy and he truned on a space heater…. *Facepalm*) And that’s just one of my stories. :}

  4. Pingback: Review: Do Hard Things | Musings From Neville's Navel

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