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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Last night I finished Nickel and Dimed. If you have not heard of it, Enrenreich, who admits to being in the top 20% of the US pay scale and paying $20,000 a year in mortgage interest, goes undercover for a month at a time working low paying jobs. Quite like the tv show 30 Days, she's attempting to see if it's possible to make $7 an hour and still pay your bills. The experiment is flawed in several ways, but the book is still interesting. I don't know that 30 days at a time is really enough to know how it feels, but she does experience a lot of new things. She has particular trouble finding affordable housing, and the book is full of facts on housing costs and alternatives. Over the course of her experience she waits tables, cleans houses, works at a nursing home and works at Wal-Mart.

At the end of the book she draws some conclusions from the experiment and illustrates how low wage workers can't possibly afford to not have some kind of public assistance. While I do agree with much of what she says, the experiment is flawed in so many ways that even I (and I agree with her) find some of her sweeping proclamations incredible. One of the flaws is that the three cities she chose to work in are all either big cities or tourist towns (Key West?) and not to say those problems don't exist there, but there are a lot of poor people in small town America too. Her housing problems would not be the same in Sheffield, Alabama, for example, while her income would be about the same. This is not in any way to say the people in Sheffield have it good, but rather to point out one flaw in the book.

Even with all the flaws, it's a good book to read. It really illustrates struggles that many middle- and upper-class people would never consider. I'm glad I read it.

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