Millions of Americans work full time, year round,
for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She
was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised
that a job, any job, can be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone
survive, let alone prosper, on six dollars 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 no job is truly “unskilled,” that even the lowliest occupations
require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned one job is not
enough; you need at least two if you want 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 stratagems for survival. Listen to it for
the smoldering clarity of Ehrenreich’s perspective and for a rare view of how “prosperity”
looks from the bottom. You will never see anything—from a motel bathroom to a
restaurant meal—in quite the same way again. Download and start listening now!