Nickel and Dimed, or (Not) Getting By In America, by Barbara Ehrenreich

My Copy: 9780312626686 (image from

I’m not really sure how I feel about this book. The writing style is certainly different than other types of creative nonfiction I’ve read. As far as the information within, I had to remind myself many times that this book was written 20 years ago.

I’ve seen this book get a lot of hate online. When you look at it today, it seems really obvious what’s going on and why things are lousy at the poverty line. But what we’ve normally seen (or at least I have) has been cases of people stuck living at home with parents or something similar until a better opportunity comes along. That’s become the so-called “Millennial” thing to do. But 20 years ago, people left home to get a job and do their own thing, not stay at home, so the view of young and not-so young people who couldn’t make it, even on just above minimum wage, just isn’t all that helpful.

Nickel and Dimed follows a journalist who left a far more comfortable life to take menial jobs at minimum wage and a little better to see how life was for others around her, and the struggles she had to go through to keep herself fed and clothed and safe. She started out with a few ground rules and a set minimal budget to help herself out, and then worked a certain job or in a certain environment for a month, in a few different locations around the U.S. She was part of a maid service, worked at Wal-Mart, waitressed, helped at a nursing home, all among other things.

Ms. Ehrenreich gives a lot from the first person, naturally, but also does a good job of including what she’s learned from others face-to-face along the way. What startled me is how people were living away from the job. Some employees were sleeping in their cars, stuck with roommates they despised but couldn’t get away from, in weekly-rate motels and hotels and hoping they’d be able to stick with it and not be homeless.

The plight of the working poor at minimum wage is still amazing. A great deal of this book may seem obvious 20 years later, but politicians still roll their eyes at the idea that the minimum wage needs to be raised and why can’t people just work more and learn to live on less? Well, this book tells you that many folks do all they can and do it right, but still can’t get ahead.

It’s not gonna have a tremendous amount of new info, but the startling truth in the people she meets makes this worth a glance at least.

4 thoughts on “Nickel and Dimed, or (Not) Getting By In America, by Barbara Ehrenreich

  1. Scottie says:

    Hello Chatty Introvert. The problem is while the incomes have stayed stagnate and low the costs of everything have gone up so much there is no longer any really disposable income for most of the people in the US life. The elected leaders are so disconnected from the people due to themselves being much more wealthy than the average person that they do not understand what a struggle life has become for the lower incomes and working poor. Senator Grassley said the following about why the the estate tax should be abolished and yet poor people shouldn’t be give similar tax breaks.

    “I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing,” Grassley (R-Iowa) told the Des Moines Register, “as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

    In other words poor people shouldn’t have any enjoyments but wealthy people should. And that sums up life in the US pretty well. Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

    • TheChattyIntrovert says:

      So true. I guess what is so startling to me is that much of this poverty and minimum wage issue is well known to people looking for work, but the politicians are still totally blind to it. I just can’t believe after all this time, we still have to talk about how little the minimum wage is and that people need a living wage. I do find it funny, on further research, that most of the folks who seemed to have hated this book were those raised on the “pull yourself up by your boostraps” mentality by Rush and others in the 1990s, and see all poverty as a personal failure. I love what Beau said about it (and many others). “Poverty is not a lack of character, it’s a lack of cash.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rae Longest says:

    I read this book about twenty years ago, then again for a book club selection about five years ago. At the time of first reading, it was an eyeopener to me.
    I thought the author did a fine job.


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