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Nickle and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich - NEW

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Nickle and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich - NEW

Nickle and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich - NEW

Nickel and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich - New

Brand New - 244pp

 

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America is a book written by Barbara Ehrenreich. Written from the perspective of the undercover journalist, it sets out to investigate the impact of the 1996 welfare reform on the "working poor" in the United States. In some ways it is similar to George Orwell's much earlier Down and Out in Paris and London as well as German investigative reporter Günter Wallraff's Ganz Unten (The Lowest of the Low). The events related in the book took place between spring 1998 and summer 2000. The book was first published in 2001 by Metropolitan Books. An earlier version appeared as an article in the January 1999 issue of Harper's magazine. Ehrenreich later wrote a companion book, Bait and Switch (published September 2005), which discusses her attempt to find a white-collar job.

During a conversation with Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's, Ehrenreich proposes a journalistic approach to the effects of welfare reform, an infiltration of the "unskilled" work market; unbeknownst to her, she would be the one investigating. Bringing funds all for unexpected expenses, approximately 00, she leaves her home and her middle-class existence, with a few personal items and her car, for a few months of low wage work. Starting off in her backyard, Ehrenreich searches for lodging and a job in neighboring Key West, Florida. After securing jobs at two restaurants and flirting with a one-day stint as a housekeeper, she works for one month before succumbing to an extremely busy night at one of her restaurant jobs and walking out mid-shift. Ehrenreich subsequently heads to Portland, Maine for a fresh start.

Beginning anew, Ehrenreich lands two more jobs after a four-day search, one as an assistant at a nursing home and another as a maid at a cleaning franchise. She is again worn down by her workload and work-related stress and leaves. Her final destination is Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she is employed in the women's department at a Wal-Mart before ultimately ending her investigation. Even with the odds stacked on her side — a car, no dependents, and initial funds — Ehrenreich fails to achieve a sustainable lifestyle.

Written as an exposé, Ehrenreich attempts to combat the "too lazy to work" and "a job will defeat poverty" ideals held by traditionalists. Suggesting problems with the argument, Ehrenreich highlights many of the difficulties people have working jobs that pay low wages. Foremost, she attacks the notion that low-wage jobs require "unskilled" labor. The author, a Ph.D. educated journalist, found manual labor taxing, uninteresting and degrading. She described how the work required incredible feats of stamina, focus, memory, quick thinking, and fast learning. Constant and repeated movement creates a risk of repetitive stress injury, pain must often be worked through to hold a job in a market with constant turnover; and the days are filled with degrading and uninteresting tasks (e.g. toilet-cleaning and shirt-reordering).

She argues "personality" tests, questionnaires designed to weed out "incompatible" potential employees, and urine drug tests, increasingly common in the low wage market, deter potential applicants and violate liberties while managerial apathy and austereness contribute to class separation and promote an unhealthy, stressful work environment. She reports that "help needed" signs don't necessarily indicate an opening; more often their purpose is to sustain a pool of applicants to safeguard against rapid turnover of employees. She also argues one low wage job is often not enough to support one person (let alone a family); with inflating housing prices and stagnant wages, this practice increasingly becomes difficult to maintain. Many of the workers encountered in the book survive by living with relatives or other persons in the same position, or in their cars in parking lots.

She concludes by refuting the claim that low-wage workers, recipients of government or charitable services like welfare, food, and healthcare, are simply living off the generosity of others. Instead, she suggests, "we" live off their generosity: When someone works for less pay than she can live on ... she has made a great sacrifice for you ... The "working poor" ... are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone. (p. 221)

 


Nickel and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich - New

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