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Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

by

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Cover

 

 

Reading Group Guide

READING AND UNDERSTANDING THE BOOK

1. Near the outset, Ehrenreich (speaking of her own sister) employs the term “wage slave.” What does she mean by this?

2. What are the three rules the author sets for herself at the beginning of Nickel and Dimed? Does she ever break them? If so, when and why, in your view, does she do so?

3. Early on, the author tells us that she has a Ph.D. in biology. How, if at all, does this figure into the narrative? What does Ehrenreichs scientific training bring to the “old-fashioned journalism” of this book?

4. Why does Ehrenreich assert in her Introduction that “a story about waiting for buses would not be very interesting to read”? What are the context and rationale for this remark? And given as much, do you agree?

5. Early in Chapter One, Ehrenreich notes that, in terms of low-wage work, “the want ads are not a reliable measure of the actual jobs available at any particular time.” Explain why this is so.

6. At one point, Ehrenreich details the living conditions of her fellow workers at the Hearthside. Reviewing these arrangements, explain how each set-up compares with the authors own “$500 efficiency” quarters.

7. Waiting tables at Jerrys, the author meets a young dishwasher named George. Who is he? What is his story? Why do he and Ehrenreich befriend one another? And why does she not “intervene” when she learns from an assistant manager that George is thought to be a thief?

8. On her first—and last—day of housekeeping in Key West, Ehrenreich is met by a manager who addresses her as “babe” and gives her “a pamphlet emphasizing the need for a positive attitude.” When and where else, throughout the book, does the author encounter cheap talk or hollow slogans in her endeavors as a low-wage worker? What purposes might such empty language serve? Why is it so prevalent?

9. In an extended footnote in Chapter Two, Ehrenreich explains how “the point” of the housecleaning service where she is employed “is not so much to clean as to create the appearance of having been cleaned.” Why is this? Why the deceit? Why does The Maids outfit not clean its clients homes properly?

10. “The hands-and-knees approach is a definite selling point for corporate cleaning services like The Maids,” the author writes. Explain why this “oldfashioned way” of housecleaning is thus appealing. Why does it seem to, as Ehrenreich puts it, “gratify the consumers of maid services”?

11. Buying groceries with a voucher at a Shop-n-Save in Maine, Ehrenreich notes of the checkout woman ringing up her purchases: “I attempt to thank her, but she was looking the other way at nothing in particular.” What might such body language mean? Why, if at all, is it telling?

12. Looking back on Chapter Two as a whole, what connections would you make between maids and minorities in the United States? What about between maids and poverty, and maids and “invisibility”? Refer to the text itself when making your links.

13. Who is Budgie? Why does Ehrenreich tell us to let Budgie “be a stand-in”? Also, would it be accurate to say that the authors efforts to find a safe and affordable place to live were least successful in Minnesota? Explain why or why not.

14. Paraphrase the brief “story within a story” represented by the character called Caroline. What is Carolines tale? Why does Ehrenreich get in touch with this person, and what does she learn from her?

15. As her stint at Wal-Mart winds down, the author mentions to several of her colleagues that they “could use a union here”—only, as she herself readily admits, she is “not a union organizer anymore than [she is] Wal-Mart ‘management material.” So why, then, is she making efforts at unionizing? What has led her to these efforts? What are her reasons, grievances, motivations, and goals?

16. At the outset of her Evaluation chapter, the author seems to arrive at a new understanding of the phrase “unskilled labor.” Explain this new understanding. Do you agree with it? Why or why not?

17. Describe the problems that Ehrenreich has with how the “poverty level” is calculated in this country. Is she correct on this score, in your view? Explain. Also, how does ones understanding of the poverty level—Ehrenreichs or anyone elses— relate to food costs, and to the authors assertion that our “wages are too low and rents too high.”

18. What is the “money taboo”—and why and how does it function, as Ehrenreich puts it, “most effectively among the lowest-paid people”?

19. Why does Ehrenreich refer to low-wage workers, at the close of her book, as “the major philanthropists of our society”? 

QUESTIONS AND EXERCISES FOR THE CLASS

1. In the Introduction to Nickel and Dimed, the author writes: “Unlike many lowwage workers, I have the further advantages of being white and a native English speaker.” As a class, explore whether, why, and how these two facets of Ehrenreichs identity were, in fact, advantageous over the full duration of her study.

2. Near the beginning of this book, Ehrenreich compares the restaurant-tipping habits of Americans and Europeans. Near the end, she notes that, while “most civilized nations compensate for inadequacy of wages by providing relatively generous public services,” the U.S. “leaves its citizens to fend for themselves.” What, in Ehrenreichs view, could America learn from other countries about how to better treat its low-wage workers?

3. The action of Nickel and Dimed unfolds in three American communities, as found in three different states: Florida, Maine, and Minnesota. What about your own community? How would Nickel and Dimed be different—or similar—if it included the area you call home? On your own, or as part of a group, do some research—via newspapers and magazines, TV news broadcasts, and the Internet— in order to formulate your answer.

4. Ehrenreich often speaks of dietary matters, of nutrition, of food as fuel. Why does she keep doing so? What did reading this book tell you about how we eat and how we work in America? And what about the correlations that may or may not exist between low-wage American workers and their use of cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol?

5. In her chapter “Selling in Minnesota,” Ehrenreich asserts: “Wherever you look, there is no alternative to the megascale corporate order, from which every form of local creativity and initiative has been abolished by distant home offices.” Talk about whether this is true in your own experience. If not, why not? If so, where and when have you seen evidence to support this claim? Try to use your own examples and impressions here—not Ehrenreichs.

6. Describing the food at a Florida restaurant where she works, Ehrenreich calls it “your basic Ohio cuisine with a tropical twist.” Later, wondering what living in Maine might be like, she says, “Maybe . . . when you give white people a whole state to themselves, they treat one another real nice.” Still later, she writes that certain clothes on sale at her Minnesota Wal-Mart are “seemingly aimed at pudgy fourthgrade teachers with important barbecues to attend.” Discuss the biting humor— the sharp and sometimes even mocking wit—appearing throughout this book. How, if at all, does such levity make Ehrenreichs arguments more effective? And were there instances where you thought her wisecracks went too far—or fell flat? Explain.

7. “Lets look at the record,” writes Ehrenreich in her Evaluation. What does this record tell us? Where was she most successful in her experiment, and where was she least? Do you agree with the author when she says, after going over her record, “All right, I made mistakes”? Explain why or why not. What could she have done differently, and what would you—in her shoes—have done differently? Explain.

8. Throughout Nickel and Dimedthe author makes complaints about “management.” Summarize the many problems that Ehrenreich has with managers, looking especially at the books Wal-Mart passages and the breakdown of “workplace authoritarianism” in the Evaluation chapter.

9. Explain why Ehrenreich believes that personality surveys and drug tests are both categorically unfair to low-wage workers. Look back over the full range of her low-wage experiences when crafting your answer.

10. More than once in these pages, we encounter the severe bodily and psychological harm that hard work at low pay can cause—the physical damage as well as the threats of what Ehrenreich calls, after an especially trying shift at her nursing home job, “repetitive injury of the spirit.” Prepare a short report on the health risks of lowwage work, based on Ehrenreichs study and on your own findings in various media reports.

11. One of the strengths of this book must be its cast of characters—the real people who live and work in the real world Ehrenreich is reporting on, those workers with whom she toils, relates, confers, cries, argues, and so on. In a short essay, identify and discuss a certain individual (or two) from this book by whom you were particularly touched. In your essay, explain your choice(s).

12. A few times in Nickel and Dimed, the author refers to the “Sermon on the Mount,” which appears in the biblical book of Matthew. Ehrenreich refers to this sermon not as a religious tract but as a work of a political philosophy, as a treatise on social or economic revolution. What is this sermon about? What does it say or claim? (Do some research, if you are unsure.) Finally, explain why Ehrenreich thinks this sermon now applies to Americas low-wage workers in particular.

13. In a way, this book can read as a reaction to—or a hands-on test of—the “welfare reform” legislation enacted in the U.S. in the 1990s. “In the rhetorical buildup to welfare reform,” Ehrenreich writes, “it was uniformly assumed that a job was the ticket out of poverty.” As a class, conduct a detailed conversation about Nickel and Dimed as a point-by-point examination of this very assumption.

14. This book is, of course, more than a report on, and exposé of, “(not) getting by in America”—it is also a detailed critique. To this end, the bulk of its criticism might well be directed at the Wal-Mart empire. Is this appropriate, in your view? Explain. Given that Wal-Mart is far and away the worlds largest company, is it right to expect the retail megachain to be all the more fair and respectful of its employees? Explain.

15. Nickel and Dimed takes place during a so-called economic boom in American history, the period of “peace and prosperity” (as many people called it then, and still call it now) that was the late 1990s. However, the book is largely about poverty, about the poor—and not simply the helplessly destitute, but rather the poor who are employed full-time. Near the outset of her study, Ehrenreich tells us that “there are no secret economies that nourish the poor; on the contrary, there are a host of special costs.” Near the end, in sum, she tells us that poverty is an experience of “acute distress”—a nonstop “state of emergency.” Finish your exploration of the book by talking about what it taught you on the subject of poverty in America. Not just about what it costs to “get by” but about how people living in poverty make ends meet—how they, in Ehrenreichs language, “[try] to match income to expenses.”

Product Details

ISBN:
9780805088380
Subtitle:
On (Not) Getting By in America
Author:
Ehrenreich, Barbara
Author:
Piven, Frances Fox
Publisher:
Holt Paperbacks
Subject:
SOC045000
Subject:
Poverty
Subject:
Economic Conditions
Subject:
Labor & Industrial Relations - General
Subject:
United states
Subject:
Poverty -- United States.
Subject:
Working poor - United States
Subject:
Poverty - United States
Subject:
Political Science : Economic Conditions
Subject:
Political Science : Labor & Industrial Relations - General
Subject:
Social Science : Poverty
Subject:
Politics - General
Subject:
Political Economy
Subject:
Labor
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
20080624
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
256
Dimensions:
8.04 x 5.25 x 0.715 in

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Related Subjects


History and Social Science » American Studies » 80s to Present
History and Social Science » Economics » General
History and Social Science » Politics » Labor
History and Social Science » Sociology » General
History and Social Science » Sociology » Poverty

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.95 In Stock
Product details 256 pages Henry Holt & Company - English 9780805088380 Reviews:
"Review" by , "I was absolutely knocked out by Barbara Ehrenreich's remarkable odyssey as a waitress, hotel maid, cleaning woman, nursing home aide and sales clerk. She has accomplished what no contemporary writer has even attempted — to be that 'nobody' who barely subsists on her essential labors. It is a stiff punch in the nose to those righteous apostles of 'welfare reform.' Not only is it must reading but it's mesmeric. You can't put the damn thing down. Bravo."
"Review" by , "With this book Barbara Ehrenreich takes her place among such giants of investigative journalism as George Orwell and Jack London. Ehrenreich's courage, empathy, and the immediacy with which she describes her experience bring us face to face with the fate of millions of American workers today."
"Review" by , "A brilliant on-the-job report from the dark side of the boom. No one since H.L. Mencken has assailed the smug rhetoric of prosperity with such scalpel-like precision and ferocious wit."
"Review" by , "I commend Barbara Ehrenreich for conducting such an important experiment. Millions of Americans suffer daily trying to make ends meet. Ehrenreich's book forces people to acknowledge the average worker's struggle and promises to be extremely influential."
"Review" by , "Jarring, full of riveting grit...This book is already unforgettable."
"Review" by , "Nickel and Dimed is an 'old-fashioned, 'in-your-face expose...this important volume will force anyone who reads it to acknowledge the often desperate plight of Ehrenreich's subjects."
"Review" by , "Ehrenreich is a wonderful writer. Her descriptions of people and places stay with you. If nothing else, this book illuminates the invisible army that scrubs floors, waits tables and straightens the racks at discount stores. That alone makes Ehrenreich's odyssey worthwhile."
"Review" by , "There is much to be learned from Nickel and Dimed. It opens a window into the daily lives of the invisible workforce that fuels the service economy, and endows the men and women who populate it with the honor that is often lacking on the job.... What emerges is an insider's view of the worst jobs (other than agricultural labor) the 'new economy' has to offer." Washington Post Book World
"Review" by , "A valuable and illuminating book . . . We have Barbara Ehrenreich to thank for bringing us the news of America's working poor so clearly and directly, and conveying with it a deep moral outrage...She is our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism." New York Times Book Review
"Review" by , "This book is thoroughly enjoyable, written with an affable, up-your-nose brio throughout. Ehrenreich is a superb and relaxed stylist, and she has a tremendous sense of rueful humor, especially when it comes to the evils of middle-management, absentee ownership and all the little self-consecrating bourgeois touches gracing the homes she sterilizes, inch-by-square-inch, as a maid in Maine."
"Review" by , "Nickel and Dimed is a superb and frightening look into the lives of hard-working Americans...policymakers should be forced to read the last ten pages of Ehrenreich's book in which she concludes that affordable rent, food and health care should be among the chief measurements of a healthy economy, not simply high productivity and employment."
"Synopsis" by , The bestselling, landmark work of undercover reportage, now updated

Acclaimed as an instant classic upon publication, Nickel and Dimed has sold more than 1.5 million copies and become a staple of classroom reading. Chosen for “one book” initiatives across the country, it has fueled nationwide campaigns for a living wage. Funny, poignant, and passionate, this revelatory first-hand account of life in low-wage America — the story of Barbara Ehrenreich's attempts to eke out a living while working as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart associate — has become an essential part of the nation's political discourse.

Now, in a new afterword, Ehrenreich shows that the plight of the underpaid has in no way eased: with fewer jobs available, deteriorating work conditions, and no pay increase in sight, Nickel and Dimed is more relevant than ever.

"Synopsis" by , The bestselling, landmark work of undercover reportage is now updated with a new Afterword in which Ehrenreich shows that the plight of the underpaid has in no way been eased.
"Synopsis" by ,

The bestselling, landmark work of undercover reportage, now updated

Acclaimed as an instant classic upon publication, Nickel and Dimed has sold more than 1.5 million copies and become a staple of classroom reading. Chosen for “one book” initiatives across the country, it has fueled nationwide campaigns for a living wage. Funny, poignant, and passionate, this revelatory firsthand account of life in low-wage America—the story of Barbara Ehrenreichs attempts to eke out a living while working as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart associate—has become an essential part of the nations political discourse.

Now, in a new afterword, Ehrenreich shows that the plight of the underpaid has in no way eased: with fewer jobs available, deteriorating work conditions, and no pay increase in sight, Nickel and Dimed is more relevant than ever.

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of fourteen books, including Dancing in the Streets and The New York Times bestsellers Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. A frequent contributor to Harpers and The Nation, she has also been a columnist at The New York Times and Time magazine.  In 2010, Nickel and Dimed was named one of the decade's top ten works of journalism by the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University.

Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize

Millions of Americans work full-time, year-round, for poverty-level wages. Inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job—any job—can be the ticket to a better life, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour?

To find out, Ehrenreich left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered. Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. She lived in trailer parks and crumbling residential motels. Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly "unskilled," that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors.

Nickel and Dimed reveals low-rent America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity—a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate strategems for survival. Read it for the clarity of Ehrenreich's perspective and for a rare view of how "prosperity" looks from the bottom.

"A valuable and illuminating book . . . We have Barbara Ehrenreich to thank for bringing us the news of America's working poor so clearly and directly, and conveying with it a deep moral outrage . . . She is our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism."—Dorothy Gallagher, The New York Times Book Review
"A valuable and illuminating book . . . We have Barbara Ehrenreich to thank for bringing us the news of America's working poor so clearly and directly, and conveying with it a deep moral outrage . . . She is our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism."—Dorothy Gallagher, The New York Times Book Review

"Nickel and Dimed is a superb and frightening look into the lives of hard-working Americans . . . policymakers should be forced to read the last ten pages of Ehrenreich's book in which she concludes that affordable rent, food and health care should be among the chief measurements of a healthy economy, not simply high productivity and employment."—Tamara Straus, San Francisco Chronicle

"This book is thoroughly enjoyable, written with an affable, up-your-nose brio throughout. Ehrenreich is a superb and relaxed stylist, and she has a tremendous sense of rueful humor, especially when it comes to the evils of middle-management, absentee ownership and all the little self-consecrating bourgeois touches gracing the homes she sterilizes, inch-by-square-inch, as a maid in Maine."—Stephen Metcalf, Los Angeles Times

"With grace and wit, Ehrenreich discovers the irony of being 'nickel and dimed' during unprecedented prosperity . . . Living wages, she elegantly shows, might erase the shame that comes from our dependence 'on the underpaid labor of others."—Eileen Boris, The Boston Globe

"A captivating account . . . Just promise that you will read this explosive little book cover to cover and pass it on to all your friends and relatives."—Diana Henriques, The New York Times

"There is much to be learned from Nickel and Dimed. It opens a window into the daily lives of the invisible workforce that fuels the service economy, and endows the men and women who populate it with the honor that is often lacking on the job . . . In the grand tradition of the muckraking journalist, [Ehrenreich] goes undercover for nearly a year . . . What emerges is an insider's view of the worst jobs (other than agricultural labor) the 'new economy' has to offer."—Katherine Newman, The Washington Post Book World

"Ehrenreich is a wonderful writer. Her descriptions of people and places stay with you. If nothing else, this book illuminates the invisible army that scrubs floors, waits tables and straightens the racks at discount stores. That alone makes Ehrenreich's odyssey worthwhile."—Sandy Block, USA Today

"Nickel and Dimed is an 'old-fashioned,' in-your-face exposé . . . this important volume will force anyone who reads it to acknowledge the often desperate plight of Ehrenreich's subjects."—Anne Colamosca, Business Week

"Jarring, full of riveting grit . . . This book is already unforgettable."—Susannah Meadows, Newsweek

"I commend Barbara Ehrenreich for conducting such an important experiment. Millions of Americans suffer daily trying to make ends meet. Ehrenreich's book forces people to acknowledge the average worker's struggle and promises to be extremely influential."—Lynn Woolsey, U.S. Congress, Representing California's Sixth District

"A brilliant on-the-job report from the dark side of the boom. No one since H.L. Mencken has assailed the smug rhetoric of prosperity with such scalpel-like precision and ferocious wit."—Mike Davis, author of Ecology of Fear

"With this book Barbara Ehrenreich takes her place among such giants of investigative journalism as George Orwell and Jack London. Ehrenreich's courage, empathy, and the immediacy with which she describes her experience bring us face to face with the fate of millions of American workers today."—Frances Fox Piven, author of Regulating the Poor

"I was absolutely knocked out by Barbara Ehrenreich's remarkable odyssey as a waitress, hotel maid, cleaning woman, nursing home aide and sales clerk. She has accomplished what no contemporary writer has even attempted—to be that 'nobody' who barely subsists on her essential labors. It is a stiff punch in the nose to those righteous apostles of 'welfare reform.' Not only is it must reading but it's mesmeric. You can't put the damn thing down. Bravo!"—Studs Terkel, author of Working

"One of the great American social critics, Barbara Ehrenreich has written an unforgettable memoir of what it was like to work in some of America's least attractive jobs. Nickel and Dimed is a passionate meditation on the blindness of those with money and power. It is one of those rare books that will provoke both outrage and self-reflection. No one who reads this book will be able to resist its power to make them see the world in a new way."—Mitchell Duneier, author of Sidewalk

"Drunk on dot-coms and day trading, America has gone blind to the down side of its great prosperity. In Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich does more than open her own eyes wide to the hidden human costs of the boom. She immerses herself in the practicalities of being poor, a subject rendered exotic by decades of media neglect. Once inside, Ehrenreich expertly peals away the layers of self-denial, self-interest and self-protection that separate the rich from poor, the served from the servers, the housed from the homeless. This is a brave and frank book that is ultimately a challenge to create a less divided society."—Naomi Klein, author of No Logo

"A tough, engaging, revealing look at life as a low-wage worker . . . Sobering."—Shelley Donald Coolidge, Christian Science Monitor

"Barbara Ehrenreich is the Thorstein Veblen of the 21st century. And this book is one of her very best—breathtaking in its scope, insight, humor, and passion."—Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of The Time Bind

"Between spring 1998 and summer 2000, Barbara Ehrenreich entered the world of service work. She folded clothes at Wal-Mart, waitressed, washed dishes in a nursing home, and scrubbed floors 'the old fashioned way—on her hands and knees' for The Maids. Her account of those experiences is unforgettable—heart-wrenching, infuriating, funny, smart, and empowering. Few readers will be untouched by the shameful realities which underlie America's boom economy. Nickel and Dimed is vintage Ehrenreich and will surely take its place among the classics of underground reportage."—Juliet Schor, author of The Overworked American

"Barbara Ehrenreich's new book is absolutely riveting. I was drawn into the narrative so quickly that it took me 50 pages to remember to get angry at the vicious economic cruelties she was unveiling. But that is the power of the book—it is terrific story-telling, filled with fury and delicious humor and, repeatedly, these stunning moments of the purest empathy with those who toil beside her. With utter honesty about her own unique and (ultimately) privileged position and, at the same time, not a hint of condescension, she enters a grimy and humiliating world we all try to ignore and somehow, by the sheer force of her prose, makes us eager to go with her. It's a beautiful work of personal nerve and ethical audacity that takes the reader by surprise and then disarms us by its tenderness. I am grateful to Barbara Ehrenreich for writing this."—Jonathan Kozol, author of Ordinary Resurrections

"Piercing social criticism backed by first-rate reporting . . . Ehrenreich captures not only the tribulations of finding and performing low-wage work, but the humiliations as well."—Eric Wieffering, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Salient . . . A compelling and timely book whose insights transcend the obvious."—Julia Klein, The American Prospect

"Engaging . . . Hopefully, Nickel and Dimed will expand public awareness of the real-world survival struggles that many faced even before the current economic downturn."—Steve Early, The Nation

 
"Compulsively readable . . . Ehrenreich proves, devastatingly, that jobs are not enough; that the minimum wage is an offensive joke; and that making a salary is not the same thing as making a living, as making a real life."—Alex Ohlin, The Texas Observer

"Impassioned, fascinating, profoundly significant, and wildly entertaining . . . I kept grabbing family members and phoning friends to read passages aloud . . . Nickel and Dimed is not only important but transformative in its insistence that we take a long hard look at the society we live in."—Francine Prose, O: The Oprah Magazine

"This is social critic Ehrenreich's twelfth book, an on-the-job study of how a single mother (or anyone else) leaving welfare could survive without government assistance in the form of food stamps, Medicaid, and housing and child-care subsidies. To find the answers, Ehrenreich left her home in Key West and traveled from Florida to Maine and then to Minnesota, working in low-paying jobs. Ehrenreich, who holds a Ph.D. in biology, resolved not to fall back on any skills derived from her education or usual work and to take the cheapest accommodations in motels and trailer parks as long as there was 'an acceptable level of safety and privacy.' The 'working poor,' Ehrenreich concludes, '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.'"—George Cohen, Booklist

"In contrast to recent books by Michael Lewis and Dinesh D'Souza that explore the lives and psyches of the New Economy's millionares, Ehrenreich turns her gimlet eye on the view from the workforce's bottom rung. Determined to find out how anyone could make ends meet on $7 an hour, she left behind her middle class life as a journalist except for $1000 in start-up funds, a car and her laptop computer to try to sustain herself as a low-skilled worker for a month at a time. In 1999 and 2000, Ehrenreich worked as a waitress in Key West, Fla., as a cleaning woman and a nursing home aide in Portland, Maine, and in a Wal-Mart in Minneapolis, Minn. During the application process, she faced routine drug tests and spurious 'personality tests'; once on the job, she endured constant surveillance and numbing harangues over infractions like serving a second roll and butter. Beset by transportation costs and high rents, she learned the tricks of the trade from her co-workers, some of whom sleep in their cars, and many of whom work when they're vexed by arthritis, back pain or worse, yet still manage small gestures of kindness. Despite the advantages of her race, education, good health and lack of children, Ehrenreich's income barely covered her month's expenses in only one instance, when she worked seven days a week at two jobs (one of which provided free meals) during the off-season in a vacation town. Delivering a fast read that's both sobering and sassy, she gives readers pause about those caught in the economy's undertow, even in good times." —Publishers Weekly

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