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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  • First Published:
    May 2001, 221 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2002, 240 pages

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Book Summary

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.

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 Boston Globe - Eileen Boris

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

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.

Newsweek - Susannah Meadows

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

Los Angeles Times Book Review - Stephen Metcalf

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

Business Week - Anne Colamosca

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

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

Vanessa

Reality Check
This book is guaranteed to be ignored or rated low by anyone that is made uncomfortable by the plight of the working poor. It is much easier to believe that people are poor and living in the street because they are lazy or like it. This is reality....   Read More

Lisa

Book Shouts a Message that Needs to be Heard
This book is excellent and should be required reading for all highschool students as a good idea of where one may end up without a college education. I applaud Barbara for her guts to go do the job of actually living the life of the working poor. ...   Read More

kirit

she had worked harder than any bady elas.

Kathy

This book's impact is significant because the author lived among the working poor, taking low-wage jobs, finding whatever housing she could afford on such wages, and living paycheck to paycheck. The author, as a reporter, could have simply ...   Read More

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