Nickel and Dimed


In “Nickel-and-Dimed” Barbara Ehrenreich explains her struggles as she leaved behind her world of luxuries and enters the world of low wage working women. The importance of this topic is the U.S. government inability to handle society’s needs and social pressures. The society needs are income-producing jobs that offer the ability to live a financial stable life. The pressure is coming up with a means to provide jobs and service to the lower class people. After reading the entire book, the disparity between the upper class and lower class was made even clearer to me. In an investigation about the minimum wage work force, our author Barbara Ehrenreich who is in her late 40s finds herself taking on the job. The core assignment of this book was to find out if you really can “get by” on minimum wage as the government says you can. The Census Bureau released in September 26 1.7 million more people were classified as living below the poverty line in 2002 than during the previous year, for a total of 34.6 million people living in poverty. This news is particularly bad for single mothers, which make up for 20% of all families. Single mothers head half of all the families living in poverty. The poverty rate for female-headed households is three times that of all households. Additionally, one-fifth of all homes headed by working single mothers slide below the poverty line. Millions of women are entering this low wage workforce forming out of welfare reform and Ehrenreich wanted to know would these women be able to make in America on such menial wages. She discovers that it is nearly impossible for someone to provide a comfortable living for his or her families solely on minimum wage.


Ehrenreich first sets out on her mission in Key West, Florida. There she secures a job at a restaurant named the Hearthside as a waitress. Her next task is to find affordable housing. Ehrenreich starts off with about 1000 dollars start up money. Ehrenreich secures a 500 dollars a month “efficiency” thirty minutes away from her job. With tips included Ehrenreich’s waitressing job at the Hearthside comes to be about $5.35 an hour. She finds out early that she would have to secure a second job just to “get by” because one minimum wage job wasn’t enough for one person. Ehrenreich finds another job at a nearby restaurant named Jerry’s. Ehrenreich now earns enough money to provide herself with housing and food, but she barely makes it with two jobs. In this first investigation she disproves the government theory that you can “get by” on a minimum wage job in America, but the truth is you need more than one minimum wage job to get by without the help of government programs. Ehrenreich is now working more than 18 hours a day at both jobs and barely has time for anything else. For a family this would be a hell, and yet four million women are entering this work force at alarming numbers. Additionally, according to Census Bureau, women typically earn only 76.6 percent of what men earn.


Ehrenreich’s next mission takes her to Portland, Maine where she finds herself in the same circumstances by having to take on two jobs, one as a housekeeper and the other as a worker in a nursing home. As a housekeeper Ehrenreich earns $200-250 a week with rent at 110 dollars and with her second job she earns $7 an hour every weekend extra. Ehrenreich barely gets by in Maine, she works very hard but gets little recognition for it. At one point she even has to obtain a food voucher to eat because she didn’t have any money after her bills. Ehrenreich is now showing that even two jobs aren’t enough to get by in America especially for a family let alone a single woman.


Ehrenreich’s visit to Minneapolis was Ehrenreich’s worst experience that she had in her entire investigation. Ehrenreich couldn’t find an apartment due to the shortage of affordable housing for low-income workers. Ehrenreich works one job at Wal-Mart and it isn’t enough to pay for her rent. Ehrenreich decides to quit her investigation a couple of weeks in when she finds that she wouldn’t be able to find