Nickel and Dimed

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Nickel and Dimed

Barbara Ehrenreich used her book Nickel and Dimed to illustrate her job assignment to live in the shoes of and, write about her experiences as a minimum wage worker in America. Ehrenreich goes to live in Key West, Maine, and Minnesota and works low wage jobs, sometimes more than one at a time. The point Ehrenreich is trying to make is that it is almost impossible to live a decent life in America with one, let alone two jobs paying very low wages. It is tough to be a low wage worker in America.

Ehrenreich begins her experiment in Key West, Florida, where she finds an efficiency apartment for $500 a month. Ehrenreich will work at the Hearthside as a waitress for two weeks from 2:00pm until 10:00 at night for $2.43 an hour, plus tips. At the end of the tourist season all the tip she is left with is a “minimum wage total of $5.15 per hour” (Ehrenreich 28). Not realizing then that on such wages, $500 a month for an apartment is too expensive to live comfortably. Ehrenreich gives examples of her co-workers living situations. Gail lives in an apartment where she shares rent, “her rent would be impossible alone” (Ehrenreich 25). Ehrenreich moves into a trailer closer to Key West. “…housing in almost every case, is the principle source of disruption in [my co-workers lives]” (Ehrenreich 25). Essentially starting conditions are everything, “in poverty” (Ehrenreich 27). To make things a little more difficult, she finds out that instead of there being help for the poor, there are only more hidden fees.

“There are no secret economies that nourish the poor; on the contrary, there are a host of special costs” (Ehrenreich 27). The restaurant where Ehrenreich works has a health plan service that “kicks in” after three months, leaving the employee uninsured and having to pay full costs on his or her medication. Health situations, as described by Ehrenreich are already dwindling with regards to the excessive work schedule without breaks. Working in Maine,



Cited: Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed. New York: Holt Paperback, 2001.

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