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Nickel and Dimed:
On (Not) Getting By in America
By Barbra Ehrenreich
Lisa, Izabella, Kari
Book Criticism
 The book Nickel and Dimed “is about
the struggles of those who toil in low
wage dead-end jobs. Its message is
that it’s almost impossible to succeed
by remaining in jobs that require long
hours at low pay without finding a way
out of that trap” (Monitor staff).
 The parents of a Bedford High School
student complained that Nickel and
Dimed “portrayed capitalism negatively and was
offensive to Christians” (Monitor Staff).
Book Criticism
 A woman from the Cannonball Read series heard many people,
“praising Nickel and Dimed -- both in conversations about the
books, and in conversations about homelessness, housing
access and poverty”. When she read the book, she said, “so
many people praised it because it revealed to them the realities
of the working poor. Ehrenreich is actually forthright about the
fact that her experience does not mimic what it is actually like
to live in poverty—it merely shows the difficulty of living from
day-to-day on low wages” (Cannonball Read series).
 In contrast, Michael Reksulak thinks that this book is mainly
about, “education.” He believes that “every college student
learns that if America was to increase the minimum wage in
Economics 101 there would be quite a few difficulties.”
Author Biases
 Personal: Family worked hard
to get themselves a higher
Educational: Has a PhD in
Biology. Went to Reed College
and Rockefeller University.
Religious: Atheist
Racial: White
Gender: Female
Author Biases
 Professional: Writer
 Geographical: Moved around a lot as a child and
 Political: Democratic Socialist
Summary: Introduction
1. She cannot fall back on any skills derived from
her education or usual work
2. She has to take the highest-paying job she is
offered and do her best to keep it
3. She has to take the cheapest accommodations
she can find, with a reasonable consideration for
safety and privacy.
Summary: Continued
Ehrenreich also adds a list of thing she will endure.
1. She will always have a car
2. She will never allow herself to be homeless
3. She will never go hungry.
Summary: Serving in Florida
 Key West, Florida.
 Minimum wage process
 Ehrenreich works as a waitress
at Hearthside.
 Ehrenreich obtains another
waitressing job at a restaurant
called, Jerry’s.
 Next she attempts to work for a
full day with two jobs and gets another job at a hotel.
 She then leaves Key West in search of a new place.
Summary: Scrubbing in Maine
 Ehrenreich moves to Portland, Maine.
 She chooses it for its “whiteness”.
 Wants to make a living by working two different jobs and
to finally get to move out of the Motel 6 she found herself
living in when she moved.
 “I need a job and an apartment, but to get a job I need an
address and a phone number and to get an apartment it
helps to have evidence of stable employment. The only
plan I can come up with is to do everything at once and
hope that the teenagers at the Motel 6 switchboard can
be trusted to serve as my answering machine.” (54).
Summary: Continued
 After a job search, she
eventually gets a job at a
nursing home for $7 an
hour and a job at The
Maids for $6.65 an hour.
 On the weekends she works at the nursing home and
Monday through Friday at The Maids. She finds that it
is a lot more work than she originally expected.
 In the end she tells coworkers and the people that she
was around that she was seeing if she could survive in
low-wage jobs.
Summary: Selling in Minnesota
 Ehrenreich moves to
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Stays at rundown motel for
$35 a night
Finds a job position at Walmart
Must take drug test
Works in Ladies Department for
$7 an hour
Summary: Continued
 Cannot afford much other than
her rent
Motel raises rent to $55 a night
Moves to the Comfort Inn- costs
$50 a night.
Plants the idea of a union in
co-workers heads
Quits job at Walmart
Summary: Evaluation
 There are “few or no rewards for
heroic performances”
(Ehrenreich 195).
Every job was physically demanding
Overall, as a worker, a B+
Rise of rents is outstripping the rise in pay
Employers resist wage raises
Most surprising was the extent to which one is
required to surrender basic liberties and self respect.
Low wage workers have few options
Summary: Continued
 Prosperous rarely see the poor
and realize what they go through
 Believes that we should be
ashamed at our own dependency
on the underpaid labor of others
 “When someone works for less pay than she can live
on-when she goes hungry so you can eat more
cheaply and conveniently-then she has made a great
sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some
part of her abilities, her health, and her life” (221).
Central Claims: Introduction
 In Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich believes that a
person cannot live off of minimum wage without
government assistance, Medicaid, and housing.
 “But if the question was whether a single mother
leaving welfare could survive without government
assistance in the form of food stamps, Medicaid, and
housing and child care subsidies, the answer was
well known before I ever left the comforts of home”
Central Claims: Continued
 “According to the National Coalition for the
homeless, in 1998-the year I started this project-it
took, on average nationwide, an hourly wage of
$8.89 to afford a one-bedroom apartment, and the
Preamble Center for Public Policy was estimating
that the odds against a typical welfare recipient’s
landing a job at such a “living wage” were about 97 to
1” (3).
Central Claims: Serving in Florida
 It is impossible to live on your own with minimum
 “Gail is sharing a room in a well-known downtown
flophouse for $250 a week. Her roommate, a male
friend, has begun hitting on her, driving her nuts,
but the rent would be impossible alone” (25).
Central Claims: Continued
 Managers have easy jobs.
“Managers can-sit for hours at a time if they want-but
it’s their job to see that no one else does, even when
there’s nothing to do, and this is why, for servers,
slow times can be as exhausting as rushes” (22).
Central Claims: Scrubbing in Maine
 Ads don’t always speak the truth.
“A help-wanted ad may not mean that any help is
wanted just now” (60).
Central Claims: Continued
 The poor people
of America are
“The poor have
disappeared from
the culture at large”
Central Claims: Selling in Minnesota
 Low wage workforce changes people
“How Barb turned out-she’s meaner and slyer than I
am, more cherishing of grudges, and not quite as
smart as I’d hoped” (169).
 Too much money is spent on drug testing
“In 1990, the federal government spent $11.7 million
to test 29,000 federal employees. Since only 153
tested positive, the cost of detecting a single drug
user was $77,000” (128).
Central Claims: Continued
 It isn’t possible to
make a living while
working at Walmart
“I either need to find a
husband, like Melissa,
or a second job, like
some of my other
coworkers” (170).
Central Claims: Evaluation
 People can’t support themselves
with a minimum wage job
“Something is wrong, very wrong,
when a single person in good
health, a person who in addition
possesses a working car, can
barely support herself by the
sweat of her brow. You don’t
need a degree in economics to see that wages are too
low and rents too high” (199).
Central Claims: Continued
 You surrender basic rights to your low-wage job
“What surprised and offended me the most about the lowwage workplace was the extent to which one is required to
surrender one’s basic civil rights and self-respect” (208).
 The working poor make a great sacrifice
“The ‘working poor,’ as they are approvingly termed, 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.” (221).
 We agreed with almost all of the central claims
- A person cannot live off of minimum wage without
government assistance, Medicaid, and housing.
- It is impossible to live on your own with minimum wage.
- The poor people of America are “invisible”
- Ads don’t always speak the truth.
- Low wage workforce changes people
- Too much money is spent on drug testing
- It isn’t possible to make a living while working at
- People can’t support themselves with a low-wage job
 We disagreed with one central claim
- Managers have easy jobs
 Introduction: explains
Ehrenreich’s background
and her middle class status.
-Claims based off of prior
knowledge of the working class
 Serving in Florida: Ehrenreich
is trying to adjust to the
low-wage work life
-Claims based off of initial struggles
 Scrubbing in Maine: Starts to connect more with coworkers
-Claims focused on struggles that are deeper rooted
Reflection: Continued
 Selling in Minnesota:
Ehrenreich heavily focuses
on the unequal way of life
the lower class goes through
-Claims focus on the way things
should be changed
 Evaluation: States the major
points she came across, largest
being that you cannot live off of
a low wage job without assistance.
-Claims bring together major points of the book
Reflection: Continued
 Ehrenreich builds up to her major central claims by
first exposing what a working class life entails and
then slowly bringing out her opinions against lowwage life and finally coming to the conclusion that a
change is necessary
Works Cited
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Comfort Inn. 2012. Photograph. Comfort Inn, Duncansville. Web. 1 Jun 2012.
Drug Testing in the Workplace. 2001. Photograph. n.p. Web. 1 Jun 2012.
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< coaching>
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"Little Rock Walmart to hire 90 associates." The Spirit of Arkansas. World Now, 2012.
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22 12 2010, n. pag. Web. 3 Jun. 2012.
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< are in
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Works Cited
Reksulak, Michael. "The Book Review: Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in
America." Business Report. (2005): n. page. Web. 3 Jun. 2012.
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The End!

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