Nickel and Dimed is the incredible story of
writer Barbara Ehrenreich and her journey into the world of unskilled labor. She
performs three experiments, each as fascinating as the next. Ehrenreich moves to a town
and tries to secure low rent housing and find a job or two that she can live on.
First, she goes to Key West, Florida, and becomes a waitress. The
stories she tells of co-workers who live out of their cars and pay-by-the-week motels are
fascinating. She describes the job, the never-ending and always-pointless employee
meetings, the typical wait staff side work, and the grueling existence of a bottom-feeder
waitress. She cannot pay the rent with one job, so she gets a second one cleaning hotel
rooms, and she gives in after three weeks.
Next is Portland, Maine, where
she works as a housecleaner for a cleaning service five days a week, followed by two days
as a nursing home dietary aid. I volunteer at a nursing home myself, so the stories had
me laughing so hard I woke the house up. But the housekeeping job isn’t funny at all.
In fact, it’s sad.
Ehrenreich brings out the invisible existence of a
housekeeper—somebody who’s ignored and poor, who lives a wretched existence. Again, the
author cannot live on the wages she’s paid.
Lastly, in Minnesota, she
takes a job at Wal-Mart, in the ladies’ clothing
department. Unable to secure a
second job around her sporadic schedule at
the store, she‘s forced to try to live on
those wages alone. After a month, she gives up trying and returns to her home to write
I laughed, I got mad, and I read this book in one day. I felt
lucky for the
first time in years, and I vowed never to work at Wal-Mart, no matter
hard things are. Nickel and Dimed is entertaining, enlightening, and
well-written. This book is simply a must-read for every American—especially anyone who
isn’t planning an education past high school. I highly recommend it.