Summary and book reviews of Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Nickel and Dimed

On (Not) Getting By in America

By Barbara Ehrenreich

Nickel and Dimed
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  • Hardcover: May 2001,
    221 pages.
    Paperback: May 2002,
    240 pages.

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Book Summary

Millions of Americans work full-time, year-round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that any job equals a better life. But how can anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6-$7 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich moved from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, taking the cheapest lodgings available and accepting work as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing home aide, and Wal-Mart salesperson. She soon discovered that even the "lowliest" occupations require exhausting mental and physical efforts.  And one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors.

Nickel and Dimed reveals low-wage America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity--a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate stratagems for survival. Instantly acclaimed for its insight, humor, and passion, this book is changing the way America perceives its working poor.

Introduction: Getting Ready

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About this Guide

No matter which tax bracket you're in, you have a stake in the issues raised by Barbara Ehrenreich. A book that has changed assumptions about American prosperity and hardship, Nickel and Dimed makes an especially compelling selection for reading groups. The questions that follow are designed to enhance your personal understanding or group discussion of this provocative, heartfelt -- and funny -- account of life in the low-wage trenches.


About the Book

The New York Times bestseller, and one of the most talked about books of the year, Nickel and Dimed has already become a classic of undercover reportage.

Millions of Americans work for poverty-level wages, and one day Barbara Ehrenreich ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
The New York Times - Diana Henriques

. . . you will read this explosive little book cover to cover and pass it on to all your friends and relatives.

New York Times

One of today's most original writers.

Chicago Tribune

Ehrenreich is passionate, public, hotly lucid, and politically engaged.

Ms. Magazine Vivien Labaton

Nickel and Dimed is an important book that should be read by anyone who has been lulled into middle-class complacency.

O The Oprah Magazine - Francine Prose

Impassioned, fascinating, profoundly significant, and wildly entertaining...I kept grabbing family members and phoning friends to read passages aloud...Nickel and Dimed is not only important but transformative in its insistence that we take a long hard look at the society we live in.

The Boston Globe - Eileen Boris

With grace and wit, Ehrenreich discovers . . . the irony of being nickel and dimed during unprecedented prosperity.

Business Week - Anne Colamosca

Angry, amusing . . . An in-your-face expose.

Los Angeles Times Book Review - Stephen Metcalf

Ehrenreich is a superb and relaxed stylist {with} a tremendous sense of rueful humor.

Newsweek - Susannah Meadows

Jarring, full of riveting grit . . . This book is already unforgettable.

Library Journal - Jack Forman

Looking back on her experiences, Ehrenreich claims that the hardest thing for her to accept is the invisibility of the poor; one sees them daily in restaurants, hotels, discount stores, and fast-food chains but one doesn't recognize them as poor because, after all, they have jobs. No real answers to the problem but a compelling sketch of its reality and pervasiveness.

Publishers Weekly

Delivering a fast read that's both sobering and sassy, she gives readers pause about those caught in the economy's undertow, even in good times.

School Library Journal - Dori DeSpain

In a concluding chapter, Ehrenreich takes on issues and questions posed before and during the experiment, including why these wages are so low, why workers are so accepting of them, and what Washington's refusal to increase the minimum wage to a realistic living wage says about both our economy and our culture. Mandatory reading for any workforce entrant.

New York Times Book Review - Dorothy Gallagher

We have Barbara Ehrenreich to thank for bringing us the news of America's working poor so clearly and directly, and conveying with it a deep moral outrage and a finely textured sense of lives as lived. As Michael Harrington was, she is now our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism.

Reader Reviews
beentheredonethat

eh..unfinished.
I was disappointed in how quickly Barbara retreated! Seemed she didn't try too very hard to explore all possibilities...kinda fell into a stereotypical mindset & setting and then pulled out. thrift stores are a treasure trove of necessities - ...   Read More

RM

Classism, racism, and herr Ehrenreich
Though my title is harsh, it doesn't compare to the subtle racist and classist innuendo peppering this book. For someone who is prone to Marxist rhetoric, I found it ironic that Ehrenreich fell back on her more comfortable lifestyle in times of need....   Read More

Robert Holloway

Nickel and Dimed
The book is good,but it fails to state how other low wage workers feel about their jobs. Besides in the end when she quits all the jobs, her so called friends don't even care when she leaves. So working in low wage America isn't necessarily bad. ...   Read More

Christian Jeans

Not very good
I thought Ehrenreich was so so condescending going into this that she never got the full experience. She forgot that these are peoples real lives, she didn't spend enough time to see how it is over a long period of time. She also went into areas ...   Read More

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