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

By Barbara Ehrenreich
This book is very, very powerful. I think anybody who has escaped working retail (as I have) should pick up a copy and read it now.
Barbara Ehrenreich spent a month at a time working for minimum wage all across the country. She worked as a waitress, a maid, and a Wal*Mart employee. She allowed herself a small amount to start each month, and then tried to earn enough to pay the next month’s rent. She didn’t always succeed. Nickel and Dimed taught me about the injustices heaped upon the working poor, and made painfully clear something I’ve always suspected: It is not true that a job, any job, will lift you out of poverty. Many jobs don’t pay well enough to keep a person housed and fed, let alone handle the health emergencies that invariably crop up when you work hard all day and don’t eat enough, let alone eat well. One of her coworkers when she was on a team of maids often had half a small bag of Doritos for lunch.
I also learned that those teams of maids you can hire don’t actually clean – they provide the appearance of cleanliness. The rules and regulations the maids toil under prevent effective cleaning — half a bucket of warm water is all they’re allowed for mopping, for example, which merely redistributes the dirt evenly rather than removing it. And the maids are treated terribly, both by their management (a man who insists they “work through it” whenever they complain of injuries) and by their clients (who do things like leave piles of dirt underneath the centers of their throw rugs so they can have proof of vacuuming later).
This is an eye-opener of a book, and it made me angry that we live in a country that allows people to work full-time (or more than full-time) for pay so low they cannot get by.
Book 24 in 2007.

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