Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

General Description (from
Acclaimed as an instant classic upon publication, Nickel and Dimed has sold more than 1.5 million copies and become a staple of classroom reading. Chosen for “one book” initiatives across the country, it has fueled nationwide campaigns for a living wage. Funny, poignant, and passionate, this revelatory firsthand account of life in low-wage America—the story of Barbara Ehrenreich’s attempts to eke out a living while working as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart associate—has become an essential part of the nation’s political discourse.

Now, in a new afterword, Ehrenreich shows that the plight of the underpaid has in no way eased: with fewer jobs available, deteriorating work conditions, and no pay increase in sight, Nickel and Dimed is more relevant than ever.

Why the President Should Read It
Not for the reasons the author might wish. The lesson of Nickel and Dimed is not, as the author opines, that unions and government intervention are the cure for underpaid adults. Generally, jobs have a way of being compensated according to what they’re worth. If someone cannot support their family working in an entry-level position at Wal-Mart, the problem is not that Wal-Mart doesn’t pay enough for that job, it’s that the employee is in the wrong job and should find one that pays more. The problem is that many employees feel stuck in jobs that don’t pay enough, and the reason for this is lack of education. Education = mobility, and the curse of those profiled in Nickel and Dimed is that they are products of an educational system that does not work well.

Of course the book does not have education as its focus and therefore provides no solutions to that problem, but a President would benefit from reading this book if only to better understand the plight of those who are failed by our educational system, since many of them end up receiving government welfare.

Personal Notes
I get the feeling many present-day politicians have little or no idea what it’s like to be a normal person in America because many of them are so wealthy they either have never known poverty, or have forgotten what it’s really like. For all its faults, this book does a decent job of showing what it’s like to be stuck in a low-paying job, and for that reason alone our politicians could benefit from reading it.