Author: Barbara Ehrenreich
Narrator: Christine McMurdo-Wallis
Publish date: 2001
Source: Library (audio book)
"Millions of Americans work for poverty-level wages, and one day 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 to $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 strategies for survival. Instantly acclaimed for its insight, humor, and passion, this book is changing the way America perceives its working poor."
This was my very first audio book that I have listened to all the way through. I tried a couple fiction books over the summer, but found myself losing interest really quickly. I think with fiction, I like to go back and reread paragraphs a lot, but with nonfiction I can sometimes skim. I figured a nonfiction audio book might be similar to a really long This American Life or something, so I picked up Nickel and Dimed at the library. It was interesting, although frustrating.
First of all, I love the premise of the story. Undercover reporting like that can be really interesting and some parts of this were pretty intriguing. It is infuriating how little people are paid for certain jobs and Ehrenreich definitely exposed that. I also wasn't aware of things like people actually living in motels or cars instead of apartments. I know that sometimes I complain about my salary, but this book really opened my eyes to what other people go through and how good I actually have it. It's incredibly sad that some Americans work 7 days a week and/or 2 jobs just to make enough for rent, let alone food and other expenses.
That said, there were some parts that annoyed me. I wished Ehrenreich would have gone to at least one city that had a large public transit system, like Chicago or NYC. I know that those cities have a higher cost of living, but realistically, low income people live everywhere, including big cities. She rented a car in each city that she worked, so it would have been nice to compare the costs of car rental vs. metro. I also didn't agree with some of her lifestyle choices, like having smoked pot before applying for jobs that required a drug test. If you know you are going to apply for entry level jobs in the near future, why are you doing drugs (and spending money on them)? What an odd part of the story.
Nickel and Dimed was an interesting audio book to listen to, but I'm not sure that I'd recommend it to everyone. It was very interesting to become aware of some people's living situations and I'm glad I did, but I think Ehrenreich could have gone about her research more realistically.
If you've read it, what did you think? I'm definitely curious about other people's opinions.