Down-to-Read with Daniela: Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Full Title:
Nickel and Dimed: on (not) getting by in America

New York Times Bestseller

Age Group:

Non-Fiction, American Literature, Investigative Journalism, Social Commentary, Economics

What is it like to live poor in America? To answer the question, Ehrenreich embarks on a completely immersive journalism experience, from juggling customers at big chain restaurants to folding women’s clothing at Wal-Mart.

Through a variety of low paid, back-breaking labour, Ehrereich uncovers an “invisible” world rich in corruption and manipulation. What she discovers will either confirm your suspicions, or open your eyes to an unseen world. Backed by plenty of hard hitting facts, Nickel and Dimed is sure to get you thinking about the plight of low-wage workers in America (and even Canada!).

My Thoughts:
Eerily reminiscent of my own days as a low wage worker, Nickel and Dimed brings poverty out of hiding, forcing readers to acknowledge the power struggles that are happening all around them.

As a young adult I remember working the front lines of customer service for bare minimum pay. First there was my four year stint at McDonald’s beginning at age 15. That was a crash course in coping with unreasonable, obstinate customers, intimidating managers and awful hours. Then there was a garden center job, where you could often find me trying to lift 50 pound flower pots filled with wet soil (gah!). And finally working at a pet store, where I met a 19-year-old girl who was struggling to raise two young children, deal with the children’s deadbeat father and cope with her own mother’s alcoholism. I still can not even fathom the struggles she was enduring at that time. All of these jobs were humbling experiences where I learned the value of hard work, tenacity and even gratitude for my sheltered, privileged life.

But the difference with my situation was that I always knew, like the author, that it was only temporary. And I always had the cushy support of my working middle class parents who helped support me through university.

Nickel and Dimed is a wonderful eye opener that is certainly worth a read. For a more recent book with a similar concept, try the riveting Working in the Shadows: a year of doing the jobs (most) Americans won’t do. You can check out my review here:

Borrow Nickel and Dimed: on (not) getting by in America from your local Vaughan Library today!


About Daniela

Daniela is a youth librarian at the Woodbridge Library. Like many of her fellow librarians, Daniela enjoys nature walks, gardening, reading and cat sitting.