By: Barbara Ehrenreich
Subject Matter: Minimum wage in the United States; Unskilled labor in the United States; Poverty in the United States
I’m a little disappointed that Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America is to be my first review, because this is neither the genre nor the subject matter that I get excited about. In fact, the only reason that it’s first is that it just so happened to be the first book I finished since I started this blog.
This book is exactly what it promises to be: a social critique on the problem of low-wage labor in America. That said, this is a book set in 1998, and so while many of the things that Ehrenreich states are true and relevant, many, many are outdated. This is not a fault and this does not make the book any less valuable; it’s just a fact that must be considered for today’s readers.
This is definitely not a book to read for those who think that America can do no wrong; Ehrenreich’s goal is not to convince conservatives to be liberals or apolitical people to get fired up about politics or anything like that.
She wanted to do an expose of what it’s like to be poor in America, so she traveled to three states and attempted to make a living for a month at a time doing “unskilled” labor without using any of the advantages she, as a well-educated, upper-class person, has over the typical low-wage worker. Ehrenreich is political and not afraid to admit it, and she is entirely dissatisfied with what she found.
To be honest, I didn’t love this book. For one thing, and Ehrenreich admits this, she inherently cannot speak for the working poor: she has not had to live her whole life in those circumstances, and aside from that she cannot speak for a group of people that large anyways.
I thought that Ehrenreich did a good job of keeping me interested in the storyline and making me care about the people she interacted with (which I give her huge props for), but she didn’t necessarily make me understand anything that I didn’t already understand.
Also, I found myself discounting her credibility or losing trust in her, because it is a first-person narrative and it’s a very personal experience.
It’s an interesting read. It’s probably not going to change my life, especially thirteen years after it was published, but it’s interesting at least. And maybe for someone who’s had no introduction to the hardships of the poor, it would be eye-opening, but I found it a little boring.
Have you read Nickel and Dimed? Did you like it, hate it, get frustrated by it, want more of it? Let me know in the comments.
If you liked Nickel and Dimed, try this:
Fugitive Denim: A Moving Story of People and Pants in the Borderless World of Global Trade by Rachel Louise Snyder
The Celestine Prophecy: An Adventure by James Redfield
Daniel X: Watch the Skies by James Patterson
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy