A Critique of Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Nickel and Dimed, was certainly a wonderful read and is verily able to open the reader’s eyes to a reality that is usually set aside by many. The book was originally a compilation of her researches as she went undercover to write about people who had to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. Those people whose wages were below the minimum wage and were so busy with work they were not able to pursue their own interests and who were also supporting dependents.

As a whole, the author was able to document her experiences as she wrote in her journal her everyday experiences. Through this, the readers were able to have a glimpse into the lives of people she had worked with as a waitress at Florida, a healthcare aide at Maine and a salesperson of Wal-Mart at Minnesota. To be able to do this properly, though, she had to fake her qualifications and disguise her motives from her fellow workers. As a journalist, she also had to restrain herself from pointing out her political views to her colleagues.

I think her method of studying the people may have some flaws, some biases. Below would be several of them. First of all, she wasn’t really like them. These people has had different experiences and lived in a different environment unlike hers. Such factors would have made an impact on how the subjects would act as people, as workers.

The author mentioned that her co-workers didn’t even ask about insurance or other possible benefits included on the job they were on and just accepted what their boss said. If the workers were people who knew about such things, they would probably ask. Then, again, even if they knew, most of them would not have time to think about such benefits as a whole because they would be too busy trying to ake ends meet anyway.

Then, as one who had to experience the life of a poor worker, she was not able to live out the role very well. One, she did not have anyone who depended on her earnings—no family or siblings, unlike most of the subjects she studied. She did not feed anyone else other than herself nor did she have to consider the medical problems of other people.

The author also did not trust religious organizations even when her coworkers were telling her that it would be a great help. She always refused to accept money from charities and other such organizations. People in actual situations would not be refusing such help; in fact, they would have been the ones who would be asking for help from such organizations, whether they believed in its cause or not.

She also insisted on living alone, thus pay her rent by herself. She always seemed to talk about this issue but was never really able to solve such an easy problem. Real people would have gone and looked for roommates to share the rent of the house. That way, she could have saved more money and may even develop a relationship with other people.

The last part of the statement was also one of the things she failed to do. Humans are social beings, that’s a fact even when there are a few who say they prefer to live alone. All people need each other and so far, the human race is progressing because of helping each other. The same principle still happens and is certainly one of the most effective ways to survive—to help one another. The author, unfortunately, was not able to build a proper relationship with her co-workers.

She was not able to build a support network which most people actually have. I believe that this is one of the most vital parts in the lives of the working class. Yeah, they may be feeding more mouths and spending more, but the human companionship, the support, these extra people are giving to the workers actually motivate them to go on fighting and working.

There was also this part on the book where she walks out in the middle of her shift as a worker in a restaurant just two weeks after being hired. The truth is, real people would not have done this, simply because they did not have the liberty to do so. They just could not afford to lose a job, however hard it is or low paying it is. And speaking of low-income, hard, stressful jobs, she also irresponsibly argues against corporations giving such small wages without considering the economics behind it like insurance and overhead. These things are work requirements and are deducted from the employees’ salaries. Of course, with those things, and probably additional loans, the employees would really get a small wage after all the deductions are done.

Also, the fact that she seemed to give her own thoughts and comments on the issues that were tackled on the book made it less like professional journalism. Ehrenreich thought that the book was the product of undercover reporting, but it certainly lacked a bit of that sense because of the lack of objectivity of reporting the events. She was not even able to tell or relate the lives her subjects were living. She could have picked a person, tried to get to know him and be able to relate in the book more concretely the problems and issues the person was facing. Instead, the book was actually, in another point of view, mostly about her and how she coped up with living the life of such people.

Sure, there were the other characters but it almost always seemed like she was the hero since the whole thing revolved around herself. The subjects she was supposed to be studying were like backdrops in her play. She really should have focused more on the lives of the people she was studying. She should have delved more on exactly how these people lived, what are the exact problems they were facing, if possible, what these people wanted, wished, they could do for themselves and what the government could do for them.

I’m not saying that Ehrenreich was all the way wrong in her methods and because of that, her book was essentially ineffective. The truth is, although it would have been better with the above suggestion, it has, in effect, really opened the eyes of its readers of the many people who have jobs but still really are poor. The book certainly disproved the mindset that if one has a job, then everything’s going to be alright. It also might have made people reconsider their thoughts about the poor, saying that they are like that because they are lazy. The book shows that there are hardworking people, but unfortunately, even with all the jobs they are balancing, they are still not able to get out of the sticky web called poverty.

Works Cited

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001.