Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed Book Review

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¶ … Barbara Ehrenreich's

Nickel and Dimed

Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed explores the nasty and depressing life of minimum-wages earners and their struggles to sustain a healthy existence. Ehrenreich's goal is to shine the light on American poverty and its endless cycle. The premise of the book is to understand how hundreds and thousands of people were going to survive in the world after being forced off welfare. The ongoing realization is that this scenario still exists. There are many people who refuse to take a government handout and do the best they can and the best that they get is something similar to Ehrenreich's experience. Here thesis is real, whatever the intension; to survive on minimum or low wage income means

Ehrenreich's methodology is solid in that she places herself in the trenches, so to speak, to elucidate her experience. There is no guessing here; there is no appealing to numbers, charts, or second-hand experiences. The book offers more than clinical trials and studies could ever shed light on because it contains the element of human experience that most often trials and studies lack. The human element of the book is also what makes it valid. There can be no disputing what Ehrenreich experienced; no one can it did not happen and no one can dispute it. Nickel and Dimed is a true story and the most frightening aspect is that it is simply not happening to one person; it is happening to literally hundreds and thousands of Americans every day.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Book Review on Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed Barbara Ehrenreich's Assignment

Ehrenreich does not attempt to assume anything as she delves into the working class in three different cities. To experience what it means to be locked in the lower class, Ehrenreich took many "unskilled jobs" to pay her bills. She waited on tables, cleaned hotel rooms, and even worked at Wal-Mart. One of the first things she realized is that even "unskilled" jobs required some set of skills that needed to be learned. It is not easy waiting on tables ort cleaning rooms and it certainly is not easy being on one's feet all day for seven or eight dollars an hour. As Ehrenreich felt her way through a stifling life, she discovered many of the other troubles that exist with this threadbare sustenance. Poverty means much more than difficulty paying rent and having enough money left over for groceries. It also means not having the money to pay for the health problems that are associated with standing on one's feet all day long and not eating a healthy diet. There is no health care in this world and the best hope is that aches and pains will simply go away. Childcare is another problem that Ehrenreich did not have to face but certainly began to comprehend as a terrible burden to those working for low wages.

Personal experience makes the book a worthwhile and necessary read for anyone interested in the problem of poverty. Ehrenreich does find work but it is not an easy task and it certainly is not as easy as one might think. Once she finds a job, she must then begin the search for housing, which presents another host of problems. She rents a hotel room because it is all she can afford. The room is overpriced considering that Ehrenreich cannot sleep for fear of something terrible happening. She writes, "women -- perhaps especially single ones and even those who are just temporarily living among the poor for whatever reason -- really do have more to fear than woman who have houses with double locks and alarm systems and husbands or dogs" (153). Ehrenreich estimates that she must have known this fact theoretically but lying in a hotel bed at 4 a.m. unable to sleep for fear of what might happens, the lesson takes hold" (153). This perspective is as enlightening as it is frightening considering most women have children for which they are responsible. Since Ehrenreich is female, it should only make sense that her book could be and is categorized as "socialist feminist" literature but it is not advertised as such. Ehrenreich's sex is indeed another obstacle that she must overcome but I got the feeling while reading the book that most of what she experiences as a woman intensifies and emphasizes the severity of the problem she is addressing. It is still a man's world in many aspects and we can bet that if times are difficult for minimum and low-wage earning men, they are only going to be worse for women in the same circumstances.

In poverty, all things seem to be working against the individual that struggles to break free. In her endeavors, Ehrenreich also becomes a Wal-Mart associate where she might get to sit down for eighteen minutes on a nine-hour shift. Feeling overworked, Ehrenreich is shocked to learn that while she works at Wal-Mart, she cannot afford the clothing they sell even if it is marked down. Housing is incredibly difficult because rent is too high for minimum or law-wage earners. Unable to afford hotel rooms or rent, Ehrenreich goes to a local community assistance program that suggests she stay in a homeless shelter until she can save enough money for rent and a deposit or until her application for housing goes through. As she struggles to find a place to live, she realizes that beneath the blue vest that all Wal-Mart employees must wear are "real-life charity cases, maybe even shelter dwellers" (175). Poverty is a cycle.

I believe the strengths of the book are numerous. That she even attempted to live in poverty for any amount of time is commendable. She writes with sense of humor but this does not diminish her overarching message that life for the lower class is sometimes unbearable. For example, when she was in Florida, she worked as a waitress in Jerry's, whose kitchen had a "bizarre" (29) smell which combined the "edible with the offal: creamy carrion, pizza barf, and that unique and enigmatic Jerry's scent, citrus fart" (29). Ehrenreich had the luxury of knowing her days in poverty were numbered and this probably afforded her some sense of relief that those living in real poverty do not have. This is the primary weakness of the book; while the author gives us view of the problem, three months is not a terribly long time to live in poverty. While it was certainly long enough to get a taste for the problem and enough experience to write a book, it almost mocks the reality of the situation and I can see where some would think it a mere joke to the real problem that afflicts the country.

I found the issues addressed in this book to be very thought-provoking and engaging. What I realized as I was reading the book is that things probably have not changed much since the book's publication. Ehrenreich proves how the system in broken not by throwing statistics at us but by putting herself in situations that allow her to convey a message that is real. I could not help remembering that I was not reading a piece of fiction. I found Ehrenreich's evaluation at the end of the book to be the most enlightening. She made me realize that there is a problem in this country and the problem is simply not because people do not want to work. There are plenty of people that want to work in this country. There are plenty of people that do work for very little in this country. Ehrenreich notes that poverty is not a consequence of unemployment; the problem lies much deeper than that and I would have never stopped to consider this had I not read Ehrenreich's book. We see the poor at Wal-Mart and every fast-food restaurant in every city. What… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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