My Copy: 9780312626686 (image from bn.com)
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.