Nickel and Dimed is a book written by Barbara Ehrenreich. Barbara Ehrenreich is a down-to-earth, skilled Journalist with a Ph. D. in biology, who does not try to be someone she is not. In Nickel and Dimed, she goes undercover as a divorced homemaker that is trying to reenter the workforce after many years to investigate and experience what it is like to live in the United States working in a minimum-wage job and getting by as a low-class citizen. Over a two-year span, Barbara traveled to 3 different states to undergo her undercover investigation.
She works at minimum-wage jobs such as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing home aid and a Wal-Mart associate for a month at a time to see if she is able to match her earnings to her expense. Even though she is going to be undercover, she will still have her car, will not allow herself to become homeless nor go hungry and will “cheat” and use her ATM card, if necessary. Barbara set three rules she must follow in her experiment in which she breaks at some point: she could not rely on her skills and education to get the job, must take the highest paying job, and take the cheapest and safest living condition for her.
At the end of her experiment, Barbara rates her performance as a B+. When it comes to the format and structure of Nickel and Dimed, Barbara does a good job with writing the book so that it flows well and does not have any parts in it that will make you confused with the story. In order to keep the flow of the book, she saves all of the statistics and other information that may not be important to put in the story and uses what we call footnotes at the bottom of the pages where it is necessary.
The tone given off by Barbara is polite yet offensive at times. She is empathic and supportive when it comes to her co-workers discussing their personal thoughts and feelings they are having whether it is work related or situations going on at home. Although Barbara is nice and comforting to her co-workers, when it comes to her bosses, she is very sarcastic and hostile to the management. Barbara voice in the text comes off to people as funny; yet is very direct and will put people down.
She uses vulgar language several times throughout Nickel and Dimed to get her point across so if you do not like the use of such language, I would not recommend this book for that sole purpose. While being undercover, Barbara discovered three big issues that are the overall problem within the experiment was making money, housing and rent, and treatment by management,. First, finding a job to make money was the hard enough on its own. She applied for many minimum wage jobs that paid anywhere from $2-$5 and it took weeks to hear back from the employer. Now-a-days, a minimum wage job pays $7.
25 and you hear back from employers within a few days. When she was hired as a waitress, she had to split her tip money with the bus boy and the dish washer leaving her with not much money to take home at the end of the day. Working a minimal wage job and trying to find a place to live and pay rent is the overall biggest issue. She learned that it cost way too much money to stay in a hotel and pay day-by-day; at some point you will run out of money. Finding a home to live in for cheap is harder to do but it is well worth it because you are able to pay by month and manage your expenses.
The last big issue in Nickel and Dimed was the treatment by management. The employers sit around and closely watch your performance day after day. They point out things that you are doing wrong and yell at you if you are not doing it the way they want you to do it. Also, the way the management treats you in the workplace makes you feel as if you are not even an adult nor a trusted, independent worker. One thing that was a surprise to me in the novel was the different testing that Barbara had to go through. She had to take an Accutrac personally test when she was working as a maid in Maine.
Barbara believed the test was so that employers will know your innermost self so that there are not any secrets. Another testing she had to go through is a drug test at Wal-Mart to make sure their workers are not doing drugs. I was mostly surprised by the drug test because I would expect these test to be given to those who work in higher class jobs. Since I am a college student writing this review for an interest of another college, I would strongly recommend Nickel and Dimed. Not only is it a good story but most of us college students can relate to what is going on in the story.
I look at Nickel and Dimed as somewhat of a motivation piece because when we graduate from college, we may not get a job within our particular field right away and we may have to resort to working in one of the jobs like in the this book. If that is the case, Nickel and Dimed will open your eyes on how management treats the working class in these minimal wage jobs and prepare you for what to expect mentally from the job. Also, the book will guide you and give you some pointers when it comes time for you to start looking around for potential homes and how to manage the money earn with your expenses.