US Workforce in “Nickel and Dimed” by Ehrenreich


Millions of Americans are engaged in full-time work, every day of their life, where they earn wages that can only match poverty levels. Barbara Ehrenreich puts herself in the shoes of minimum wage earners to examine the possibility of one meeting their daily expenses while working for $6-7$ an hour. This paper presents a review of Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America.

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Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America is a book written by Barbara Ehrenreich. The book presents a clear overview of the approaches that many workers in America use in order to survive based on their minimum, as well as near minimum menial jobs. The author presents a vivid account based on research that indicates that a robust “work ethic” does not guarantee any individual worker the availability of a platform whereby the workers can have basic needs such as food, shelter, and even transport to their workplace. Ehrenreich’s book outlines the troubles faced by people engaged in menial jobs where the pay is not sufficient for their daily expenses.

For example, the author shows that most people working in retail stores, hotels, and restaurants, as well as any other minimum wage jobs, get little income that makes it hard for them to live successfully. Even though the typical working hours for any employee are forty in a week, people doing minimum wage jobs tend to work extra hours trying to gain extra income for their numerous expenses.

In this book, Ehrenreich uses herself to create a picture of the problems faced by lowly paid workers. In her adventure, the author lays her primary focus on the search for blue-collar jobs, which do not need any form of education or training. The author has ground rules that she wishes to hang on during her search for a job.

However, the author reveals that she could not live by the rules (3). Through the author’s experience, it is evident that millions of Americans have engaged themselves in full-time work, all year but for wages that can only match poverty levels, despite the introduction of welfare reforms. Nickel and Dimed provide enough evidence to prove that the working conditions of many Americans are poor, as evident from the author’s experience in hotels, restaurants, as well as in the cleaning job. Such experience added to her expertise as a writer makes Ehrenreich suitable to articulate the problems.


Ehrenreich Barbara is the author of Nickel and Dimed. The book is written as an account of personal experiences whereby the author puts herself in the shoes of individuals who have no education and training in any field. In spite of the fact that Ehrenreich is a successful writer, she decides to forego her writing to seek a job as an untrained and uneducated individual. According to her, such a portrayal was necessary if she were to share the sentiments of many other job seekers who have undergone challenges similar to hers. In addition, her entry into this situation is guided by the urge to find out whether anybody is able to make use of the low income they get from such jobs to cater for their daily expenses, just like the poor (6).

As such, Ehrenreich gets herself menial jobs such as in a cleaning service, nursing homes, hotels, and restaurants. These are the places that people who have no education, and lack training in any field find work for their living. Her engagement in the minimum wage and near minimum wage jobs opens eyes for Ehrenreich and she discovers that the people’s hopes in welfare reforms are futile and that not all jobs in America can help one live excellent life. For example, Ehrenreich points out that it takes “on average nationwide, an hourly wage of $8.89 to afford a one-bedroom apartment…” (3). Such a scenario explains why it is very hard for individuals to survive given that they earn about $6-7$ an hour.

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In this evaluation, I will address the following criteria: how well the book has achieved its goal, possibilities suggested by the book, the things that the book has let out, as well as some of the points that are not convincing. Ehrenreich achieves her goal by outlining the challenges shared by people with low wages. In addition, the author is able to achieve the goal of determining the possibility of people working in minimum wage jobs being able to cater for their daily expenses.

From the book, it is evident that the promises of the welfare reforms are not forthcoming. Instead, every single worker continues to work with the hope of moving up the success ladder but to no success since the everyday expenses are higher than the income earned by most Americans.

Even though the book is instrumental in exposing the problems that many Americans working under poor working conditions go through, there are a number of things that are left out. The book has clearly defined the main cause of poor working conditions in America but has not provided the necessary information. There are important aspects of the workers that the author introduces to the reader that is not covered. For example, the author does not clearly focus on the people in the study. Instead, the emphasis of the book is entirely on the author herself.


From the analysis and evaluation of the book, it is evident that the book is instrumental in revealing everyday life experiences for people without white-collar jobs. The chronological experiences of the author working under poor working conditions prove how impossible it is for the individuals under the minimum wage job category to survive on $6-$7 an hour. Apart from issues dealing with the availability of income, the book vividly addresses problems that millions of Americas go through each day. As pointed out in the book, such are challenges that every typical American should overcome.

The purpose of the book is to outline the methods that most people without education and training use to earn their living. As such, Ehrenreich aims at determining whether people of such class are able to match their daily expenses to the income from their menial jobs. The book shows that individuals who work more than ten hours in a day are likely to experience health problems irrespective of their place of work.

The struggle to overcome some of these problems lands one into more problems. The author notes that embracing competition often leads to deteriorating friendships, which come along with problems of denied freedom, poor health, and a sense of low personal dignity. Thus, it suffices that the American capitalist style is inherently unfair. One would be tempted to think that were the systems fair, every hardworking person would be able to manage successfully basic human needs such as food, shelter, and clothing.

However, the author points out that Americans can deal with the unfairness of the capitalist system by lobbying for institutions to stop underpaying and harassing workers (238). The government can as well help reduce the poverty level by ensuring that the minimum wage for all workers is above average.

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Works Cited

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed. New York, N.Y.: Henry Holt, 2002. Print.

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