Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich


I listened to the audiobook of Nickel and Dimed as part of my challenge to read one banned book a month this year. 

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

In this non-fiction book, the author, a journalist, goes undercover to see if she can make a living working a series of minimum-wage jobs. She travels to different cities and works as a domestic house cleaner, waitress, hotel maid, dietary aide at a nursing home, and sales clerk at Walmart. She sometimes holds multiple jobs at once and works seven days a week to be able to afford food and rent.

“What you don’t necessarily realize when you start selling your time by the hour is that what you’re really selling is your life.”

Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed

Her experience is both eye-opening and, unfortunately, not surprising. She is subjected to illegal labor practices and treated with a lack of respect by many of the managers and companies that employ her. Her diet also suffered as a result of only being able to afford fast food, canned goods, and other foods with low nutritional value like noodles.

Although she does the jobs and pays for rent and food off her poverty-level wages, she acknowledges that her experience is only an approximation of what the working poor truly experience. She did not have a young family to support. She also had reliable transportation and always knew she could go back to her comfortable real life if it got to be too much. She also acknowledges that being white also likely gave her advantages that people of color in the same circumstances would not get.

Published in 2001, the book was based on her experiences in 1998. Despite being almost a quarter of a century old, the book was still relatable. While it was sometimes hard to conceptualize what the prices referenced would be in today’s prices, much of what she experiences still, sadly, seems prevalent.

The book was repetitive at times, but overall it was powerful – particularly the closing – where Ehrenreich observes that the working poor are equivalent to anonymous donors who sacrifice their own well-being for others to have better, more comfortable lives.

For more reviews of banned books, click this link, which takes you to the banned books category of my blog.

Leave a Reply