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I got a bit more than I had bargained for when I picked up Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America".  I not only got a lesson in what life is like for the poorest amongst us, I got a new perspective on parts of my own life.

With any other book, I would probably want to talk more about the book, but "Nickel and Dimed" brought up so many economic (and personal) issues that I ended up focusing on them instead.  At the end of my book (I don't know if this is in all of them), there are some discussion questions.  I picked out a few that I thought anyone here, even someone who hadn't read the book, could talk about so we can hopefully get a lively little discussion going:

In the wake of recent welfare reform measures, millions of women entering the workforce can expect to face struggles like the ones Ehrenreich confronted in "Nickel and Dimed."  Have you ever been homeless, unemployed, without health insurance, or held down two jobs?  What is the lowest-paying job you ever held and what kind of help --if any-- did you need to improve your situation?

Homeless: sort of.  My family went through a period where my parents, two brothers and I were living in travel trailers on my grandparent's one acre property.  My "room" was a trailer that could be hitched to a pickup truck which I shared with my older brother; there were two beds and an aisle, and two little closets.  My parents and little brother slept in a Silverstream.  My grandparents, aunt, and cousin slept in the house, which was a single-wide mobile home with one bathroom.  

Unemployed: I didn't worry about Y2K because I had exactly $7 to my name.  A week or two before, the manager at the retail place where I'd been working showed me the schedule and said, "I gave you most of the week off so you could find a new job."  I had been working for very little for the three months prior to that so I had very little saved, and had to borrow a bunch of money to make it through.  The lowest I've been paid was minimum wage, which was $5.15 at the time.

Health insurance: I only recently got health insurance, and even now I wonder sometimes if it isn't one of those expenses that could be cut out of the budget so we can pay for other things like my student loans.  I'm incredibly lucky that I've always had cavity-resistant teeth and that my husband paid for me to get my incredibly painful wisdom teeth out.  I had surgery when I was younger but it was all paid for thanks to the Shriners, and when the few other serious illnesses (like a bad case of walking pneumonia) that I've had happened, I lived close to a clinic that used a very generous sliding scale.

Multiple jobs: Right now, and for the foreseeable future.  Our little business isn't enough to give up the work we do outside our home yet, so we have a steady outside job, or two (depending on how you want to count them) as well.  My husband does extra work while I attend school, but after I graduate, I will undoubtedly have to get another job too in order to deal with our school loans.

Housing costs pose the greatest obstacle for low-wage workers.  Why does our society seem to resist rectifying this situation?  Do you believe that there are realistic solutions to the lack of affordable housing?

The first step is to stop assuming that the poor want or deserve to be poor.  It's the same kind of discrimination as racism or sexism: I didn't ask to be born into a working class family, with a father who thinks playing the lottery is a realistic way to earn money.  Keeping the minimum wage absurdly low doesn't help either; imagine trying to live off of only $10,000 a year...and that's only if you're lucky enough to work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks out of the year.  Yet the average rent is $940 a month, or about $11,000 a year, so that even those making considerably more than minimum wage may end up "poor" just from trying to pay rent.  I don't know what the solution is, but I can tell you for sure that it isn't more tax cuts for the wealthy.

How do you think a living wage should be calculated?

It should take all basic, reasonable expenditures into account: food, clothing, shelter, utilities, transportation, health care plus a little extra for entertainment, emergencies, or to be able to take one week off a year.  I found a living wage calculator but it's estimates seem pretty low to me.

How can American companies make the workplace environment safe and efficient without treating employees like suspected criminals?

This isn't a question that I feel like I can answer, but I'm curious to know how others might answer it.

After reading "Nickel and Dimed," do you think that having a job--any job--is better than no job at all?  Did this book make you feel angry?  Better informed?  Relieved that someone has finally described your experience?  Galvanized to do something?

I don't think I was all that ill-informed before I read the book.  At the same time that Ehrenreich was doing her experiment, I was actually entering the workforce.  I've done all three of the types of work she did: food service, cleaning, and retail, but most of my experience is with food service.  And I entered into it with only a high school diploma and almost no experience or connections but a need to support myself outside of my parents' households, much like she did.

I was lucky.  I wasn't always poor (though I have been poor, or something close to it, for most of my life).  I have a very large family who (I discover more and more as I get older) would help me in any way that they could if I needed it.  My best friend helped me bail myself out of a serious rut after that period of unemployment that I mentioned above; when I needed a place to stay because of roommate problems, I moved in with him and later, we used his better credit rating to get another apartment together.  I never had a child to take care of or any serious situations like, say, excessive medical bills, that forced me into a lower income bracket.  I've never owned a car that I could drive, which I tend to think of as something of a blessing considering what I've seen my older brother go through thanks to completely freak car accidents.  I even met and married a loving, hard-working man from a more firmly middle class family than my own.  I could probably tell you some bad stories, but they all seem so miniscule and silly compared to the people Ehrenreich worked with.  And I sincerely believe that a lot of what I have accomplished as an adult would not have happened if I hadn't been paid so well at some of my jobs.

The best one (which I'll talk about all day long if you let me, it was so good) was food service, but it wasn't fast food or a chain.  My bosses worked side-by-side with me, so they not only knew that I worked my ass off for them but they also heard about many of the personal problems that might be effecting my work.  I worked my ass off, but I also knew that they respected and trusted me, and I gained a sort of second family over the four years I worked there.  They paid me incredibly well, starting above minimum wage and giving me a raise of 50 cents almost every 6 months; they explicitly told me that they wanted to make sure I could afford to support myself, and frequently lamented the fact that they couldn't afford health insurance too.  They even gave me a week of paid vacation for every year I worked there.  If it weren't for that, I would have never have been able to spend three weeks in Sweden, where I ended up discovering a passion that I am now going to school for; they also paid me well enough that I could afford to live close enough to walk to work, and I had saved enough money when I finally quit to pay the entire cost of my first college class when I returned.  They taught me the skills to work food service and retail, which none of the other places I had worked previously had bothered to try to do.  And they helped make me the liberal I am, through gentle encouragement and through example.  It really is a wonderful place, and if you're ever in Seattle, you must go to Pike Place (the street) and 1st Avenue; ask one of the girls at the flower shop on the corner to direct you to the Crumpet Shop, and then go have breakfast or lunch.  Gary could chat forever about how fine their tea is (and it is), while Nancy could just chat forever about anything.  But whatever you do, please don't ask for egg whites or to have your crumpet split like an English muffin. ;)

But enough of my reminiscing tangent.  If I could give everyone that kind of experience, I would.  In fact, I think I empathized with Holly the most, since I could see her as an alternate universe version of myself.  If something in my life had been lacking, particularly things like a wage that made me able to save money and bosses who were as concerned about me as they were about the work I did, I might be in her exact same position.  And if I were, I wouldn't be able to enjoy so many of the simple things that make my life worth it, like this website; I'd be too busy, too tired, too hungry to write and respond to long, leasurely diaries on a Saturday.  


Before we get to talking about "Nickel and Dimed," a word from plf515:

And the next book is
Statistics as principled argument by Robert Abelson.


It's not a text book.  It's a nice, small paperback.  It has very few formulas. If you need to understand statistics as used (and sometimes abused) by social scientists, this is your book.  Really.  You could read it at the beach!

This is NOT a book about how to do statistical analysis (I can suggest some, if you need them).  This is a book about what the title says: Statistics as principled argument.

We activists and progressives need to make principled arguments, and we need to defeat those of the other side.  This book shows some of how we should do it.  And it's written in clear English.  

I hope you'll join me.


The discussion will be on March 10th.  You might be able to find this book at your local public library, at Powell's, or from va dare or from abbeysbooks (abbeysbooks-half at half com or abbeysbooks4 at amazon) who are both book-selling Kossacks.

Updated (because I forgot this part): If you want to join the book club, ask a question, suggest a book, or write a diary, you can email us at dKos.BookClub at

Originally posted to tryptamine on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 11:43 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Same reaction from me (12+ / 0-)

    when I read Nickel and Dimed - oh my God!  I made me reevaluate everything from cleaning services, nannies, to tips in restaurants.  It was such a depressing and revolutionary book at the same time. I know a lot of people that ought to read or listen to this book (the audiobook is read really well), but never will.  They are happy in their large houses with aching cleaning ladies, and could care less.  

    Thanks for this diary, it is excellent!

    "War is murder." Alva Myrdal

    by profmom on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 11:58:30 AM PST

    •  Thanks for your comment. (12+ / 0-)

      Even those of us who have been the 'aching cleaning lady', or know people who have been, need a reminder sometimes.  My own grandmother cleaned houses for a living but she found her own work and was basically her own boss; this book made me imagine how much worse it would have been for her if she hadn't had the advantage of being treated like a human being by the people who's houses she cleaned.  I wouldn't want that to happen to my grandma, and so I don't want that to happen to anyone else.

      But I guess that's what makes us liberals, huh? ;)

      •  Empathy, It's a wonderful thing. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        tryptamine, hairspray, abbeysbooks

        Too bad it was genetically bred out of W.

        "And tell me how does god choose whose prayers does he refuse?" Tom Waits

        by madaprn on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 12:05:40 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  George should have been aborted (0+ / 0-)

          Makes me understand that Sufi tale.
          A master and his desciple were traveling. They came to a river and a woman's child was drowning. She was screaming for help. The desciple knew his master was an excellent swimmer but he made no attempt to go in the water and save the child. The desciple asked him why he didn't save the child.

          The master replied that that child was destined to grow up, become a militant warlord and kill millions of people.

      •  Opposite reaction here. (6+ / 0-)

        To me, it was a surprize that people would find anything in the book surprising.

        Like most people born after the Baby Boom, I've lived the struggle to get by. I've worked shitty jobs. For most of us, you can't get through college without living like that, nevermind the ones who don't make it to college.

        Black history without Barbara Johns is like
        American history without George Washington.

        by foxfire burns on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 02:06:45 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  it all depends on where you come from.. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          tryptamine, foxfire burns

          I grew up in a different country, with less of a difference between rich and poor, and with national health care.  I supported myself too from college and onwards, but college was public and without tuition.  I took menial jobs to get food and rent money, but I never had the same problem as Americas poor have, probably mainly because of better housing, better healthcare, and union wages for nearly all - I was just lucky to be born there.  

          Maybe we don't think about things we haven't experienced ourselves, or facts that haven't stared us in the eye, and then when we realize things we get surprised. I knew minimum-wage jobs where bad, but not that bad.  Now I know better.  

          "War is murder." Alva Myrdal

          by profmom on Sun Feb 25, 2007 at 11:59:37 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I loved reading that book (10+ / 0-)

    Solidly middle class here due to a family emphasis on education and ability to own property 4 generations ago when my great-grandparents emigrated, a right not every immigrant had.

    Nonetheless, I was expected to pay for most of my college and all of grad school (still paying for the latter) whereby I experienced relative poverty. There was the week with $1.10 to spend on food though the menu was augmented by the kindness of friends, free food available at study breaks all over campus, food I pilfered from the campus food service job I had, and the fig and lemon trees in the front and back yard of the house I rented a room in.

    There were many weeks with slightly greater cash flow when I would hit a different happy hour every afternoon for the free food available for the price of a beer. I remember thinking about money and food almost all the time, a real distraction from academics at times. Hearing classmates discussing their spring break plans (trips to Mazatlan) and great internships for break and over the summer was nearly intolerable for me. I had periods of anger and bitterness that their "family cushions" or greater financial aid afforded them opportunities unavailable to me.

    I got over the anger and bitterness a while ago but those dregs were stirred up mightily while reading "Nickel and Dimed".

    "And tell me how does god choose whose prayers does he refuse?" Tom Waits

    by madaprn on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 12:04:23 PM PST

    •  Many parents are like that (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tryptamine, madaprn, vassmer, myrealname

      thinking they are going to teach their children the value of money. I think it is a form of sadism. I got it too. And at a time when my father did have plenty of money to spare. And he was the one who always encouraged me about education.

      The hypocrites. Get educated but not too much.

      •  Actually, mine had a house with very little (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Spit, tryptamine, bronte17, abbeysbooks

        equity in it while I was in college and my father was out of work for two or three years. My mother was a school teacher (union) before teachers made reasonable wages and my father was a union tradesperson. My older sister was in college 3 of my 4 years so money was really tight. Really, really tight.

        "And tell me how does god choose whose prayers does he refuse?" Tom Waits

        by madaprn on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 12:49:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Brings up my own issues too... (4+ / 0-)

        My dad (solid middle-class engineer) did the same thing.

        At 17 I was basically "cut off" from any support when I went away to college. He told me it was to teach how to be a "real" adult. "If you want to go to college instead of working for a living, you pay for it yourself."

        I somehow made it (thanks for a few checks from a sympathetic grandfather). I had to drop out at one point because I couldn't pay the tuition. Found work through CEDA. Factory jobs but I kept getting laid-ff, because the factories were shutting down!

        It was difficult. I was on food stamps and lost a lot of weight.  My girlfriend (married her later), came from a poor family so we did everyone from scratch in life.

        Took me long time to graduate no thanks to him. Yep, it is sadistic.

        timendi causa est nescire

        by vassmer on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 01:06:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  A lot of folks (5+ / 0-)

          from older generations haven't quite gotten the reality for the younger ones yet. Not to cap on them -- I think there are a lot of misunderstandings in both directions -- but when it comes to the realities of low wage work now, it seems that a lot of older people have a hard time understanding that it's not just like it was when they were starting out.

          •  For the middle class parents (6+ / 0-)

            that claim to have "pulled themselves up."  Many of them are the ones who flocked around Reagan and his lies. They mocked the unions and the labor laws and the health care that has slowly degenerated over the decades.

            They've left a lasting legacy for their kids and grandkids.

            <div style="color: #a00000;"> Our... constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds. Thurgood Marshal

            by bronte17 on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 03:04:28 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Great. Karma's a bitch (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              When they are old and incapacitated then they will come crying to their kids. I hope the kids can not sacrifice their family to help the old folks who didn't help them.

              I better not get started on this. Stop it right now, Janet

            •  Shit I'm back on this (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Now that I'm 73 I know a lot of old folks who are desperately in need of managed care. If they didn't do the best they could have for their kids, their kids are still fucked up and can't handle the additional stress.

          •  My dad came from a middle class (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Spit, tryptamine

            family who worked for the government. His father was a college grad. Yes, I've tried studying it. He won't talk much about it though because.....

            My dad thought college was for time-wasters. He said college grads didn't know half what he knew and thought it was a waste of money and time.

            He is sort of like a modern Frank Bunker Gilbreth, the dad on Cheaper By The Dozen (the old Clifton Webb movie.) My dad actually did time motion studies like that for his job to squeeze more work out of the folks at the plant.


            timendi causa est nescire

            by vassmer on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 06:50:26 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Well, a gentle reminder sometime (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          is to remind him how self reliant he will be when he's old and helpless. The way you were when you were young and helpless.

          Tell him you hope he is socking it away for private nursing at $300 bucks a shift when he can't go to the toilet himself. Tell him since you graduated so late, you got a late start with your family and kids and career, so you are not going to be financially able to do all this for him the way you would have been if he had helped you to graduate earlier.

        •  Did he still claim you on his taxes? (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Spit, tryptamine, vassmer

          My husband had some trouble with that.  Because he was still claimed as a dependent on his parents taxes he could not qualify for many of the Pell grants and other free money but he had to pay his own way through school. He had at least two jobs most of the time I knew him and for a semester he had three. If anyone thinks that does not effect your grades or the course work you take they are crazy. He started out as an engineering major but could not keep up.

          To be fair his parents did pay a lot of his student loans off after graduation.(birthdays, Christmas, Valentines, ect cards always included a note saying that they made a loan payment for him--which was nice)

          Does satan wear a suit and tie, Or does he work at the Dairy Queen- Martin Sexton

          by strengthof10kmen on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 04:39:54 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Doing any science type degree (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            tryptamine, vassmer

            while working is just an incredible uphill struggle. It's sooo much work to just deal with the coursework; I'm a chem major, and I've pretty much had to just stop working to get myself through. I have friends who work quite a lot while doing science coursework, and I just don't understand how they do it.

            We really screw over the set of young people who aren't getting enough help from their middle class parents -- if they claim you, you pretty much just have to wait until 25 for any financial aid. I don't want to cap on my parents at all, they did help out some while I was younger, but not enough for me to not work, which absolutely had an effect on my grades. Our entire university system is geared toward traditional students with families that help out quite a lot, and when that's not the case, there's really no good way to make it through without working your ass off and barely scraping through; many of the students I've known over the years who wound up dropping out did so because they simply couldn't juggle work and school anymore.

          •  My dad claimed me on his taxes too (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Spit, tryptamine

            so I couldn't get anything but work at the school by sympathetic counselors.

            It wasn't until I dropped out and had an apartment and working full time that he was pretty much forced to drop me. Then I went ran to the financial aid office. Pell grants were a life-saver.

            I had to change majors too. I was a physics major and crazy as it sounds, had to change it to psychology. It was easier to handle.

            timendi causa est nescire

            by vassmer on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 06:35:33 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Not crazy at all (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              tryptamine, vassmer

              I was a physics major and crazy as it sounds, had to change it to psychology. It was easier to handle.

              Jibes with my experience, too. It's not necessarily that the hard sciences are more difficult, theoretically. But they are a hell of a lot more work. This barrier is, I suspect, why we see so little real diversity in the hard sciences.

  •  Hi. I have a question. I live in the west of Eire (6+ / 0-)

    as you know and I find it hard to locate books to be discussed on your diary. However since I buy most of my books and music online usually from or EBay would, say something like the above mentioned Abelson book, be available & shipped within two weeks? Or perhaps someone might have a link of a good online bookshop in Europe. Cheers from the Emerald Isle!

    Chimpee is an embarrassment to stupidity! GTFO ASAP! AAF

    by Asinus Asinum Fricat on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 12:04:24 PM PST

  •  Thanks for sharing your experiences (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Spit, tryptamine, panicbean, pico, madgranny

    I read "Nickel and Dimed" several years ago.  I didn't get as much from it, since I haven't had experiences that were similar.  Your diary explained things better than the book, in my opinion.  I guess the fact that the author was able to walk away from the situations after a short time made me not able to relate very well to what she was saying.

    I can't answer most of the questions you pose.  Housing is not cheap.  In many cases, it isn't the fault of landlords (I'll get flamed here - I know there are people who gouge their renters, and I'm not excusing them.)  

    Is any job better than no job?  In my experience, for some reason if I've had a job, I could find a better one, but if I wasn't working, it took a long time to find employment in spite of diligent job hunting.  

    How did it make me feel reading this book?
    Depressed and determined to be respectful of everyone I meet in service jobs.  I now go out of my way to write thank you notes to employers for good service (I think it's called orchid letters, and it does help).

    Let there be peace on Dailykos, and let it begin with me.

    by myrealname on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 12:13:41 PM PST

    •  Thanks. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Spit, strengthof10kmen, myrealname

      There is definitely something different when you see no way out.  I think Ehrenreich talked about this a little, saying in the introduction that her case was different for that very reason.  And she also, in the concluding chapter, talks about the submissiveness that biologists find in animals who are regularly reminded of their low-status; while I think it's more complex than that, there really is something to it.  If you don't think things can change, and if you don't see anything better because you're too busy/tired/hungry/isolated to see it, you probably won't press for change.

      Like I said in the diary, I was lucky enough to have experienced a period of wealth and plenty that I could hold as an example.  For about 7 years, when I was little (the happiest 7 years of my life, in fact), my family had no worries about money.  So I have a standard on which to base my expectations, whereas someone who has always been poor probably thinks that's just the way things are.

  •  Me too. I have a question. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, bronte17

    How do you choose the books that will be read and discussed? Was this posted or is this posted somewhere?  Thanks!


    "Never argue with an idiot; they'll drag you down to their level and beat you with the experience." ~ anonymous

    by panicbean on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 12:14:40 PM PST

    •  Oh geez. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bronte17, xanthe, panicbean, myrealname

      I can't believe I forgot this!  Thanks for asking. :)

      Basically, suggest the book you think we should read.  We've got a pretty long list of possibilities, though, so the best way to guarantee that the book will get read would be to volunteer to do the diary yourself.

      •  I actually had a book club when I lived in (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        tryptamine, xanthe, rgdurst, myrealname

        Orlando 10 years ago.  We chose the book from a list of categories such as Florida authors, political, historical, etc. and we rotated through that list.  We met once a month to discuss the book and I have often thought I should start one now.  

        Can you post a short list of the books that have been suggested?  Thanks, I know I am being a PIA with this, but I have lurked here and finally got the guts up to ask my dumb questions!

        "Never argue with an idiot; they'll drag you down to their level and beat you with the experience." ~ anonymous

        by panicbean on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 12:22:30 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  That's not (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          xanthe, panicbean, myrealname

          a dumb question at all.

          Here is the last list we had compiled:

          The Jungle - Upton Sinclair
          The Art of War - Sun Tzu
          The Prince - Machiavelli
          A History of Western Philosophy - Bertrand Russell
          (anything by Philip Roth)
          Gore Vidal's Empire series: Burr, Lincoln, 1876, Hollywood, Empire
          Philosophy (author?)
          War for the Oaks - Emma Bull
          One Percent Solution
          Audacity of hope
          The World is Flat
          Kite runner
          Warrior Don't Cry - Melba Beals
          Gilead - Marilynne Robinson
          Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim - David Sedaris
          Decision in Philadelphia - Christopher and James collier
          The Golden Spruce - John Vaillant
          Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
          The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
          Ethical Realism: A Vision for America's Role in the World by Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman (non-fiction)
          Anything by Thoreau
          Jonathan Alter's book, "The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope."
          Off-Center by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson
          a Jim Webb novel
          Statistics as Principled Argument - by Robert P. P. Abelson
          "A People's History of the U.S." Howard Zinn.
          "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl.
          Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
          The Meme Machine" by Susan Blackmore
          from the war zone like Baghdad Burning I and II by Riverbend
          My Forbidden Face by Latifa ÊNF
          ZoyaÕs Story by Zoya and Follain and Cristofaire ÊNF
          or Isabel Allende's Of Love and Shadows which was written after House of Spirits.

          We don't have a book picked out to go after Peter's yet (I might do The Second Shift) but the space after that is taken.

  •  I loved that book (5+ / 0-)

    I was one of those books that I was a different person after I read it than I was before.  I have done many of the jobs she did (or pretty close) but it stilled opened my eyes. The part at the end where she talks about the people who work for less than it takes to support themselves and their families are really the biggest philanthropist, has always stuck with me.

    Does satan wear a suit and tie, Or does he work at the Dairy Queen- Martin Sexton

    by strengthof10kmen on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 12:15:45 PM PST

  •  Great analysis (13+ / 0-)

    I remember the first time I read Nickle and Dimed very clearly -- the degree to which it resonated for me was almost eerie. I entered the workforce, like you, around the time the book was being researched and written, and her observations are dead-on for anyone who has tried to make on the current low wages of the bottom rungs of our "service economy". What I found most compelling, personally, wasn't even the economic argument of the book -- though I think it's right on -- but the reality she tries to get through about the loss of basic dignity and the sacrifices one makes to physical health over time that makes the work largely unsustainable in the long run. You can do it for the long haul, but you're sacrificing your health, your emotional well-being, even your basic personality so that a company can improve its profit margin. Many people never find a way out, and also find no good way to improve their personal situations because the value placed on them as employees is so ridiculously low.

    The idea that is thrown around in politics -- that the way to solve this problem is to improve access to education -- just utterly misses the point IMO. I mean, I'm very pro-education (I think it should be free or close to it for students who are doing well), but the fact remains that there are always going to have to be people on these lower rungs. Having a job -- any job -- should come with both a living wage and a decent level of respect, an understanding that you are still human and have human needs and personality. The problem is that humans aren't nearly as efficient as service-bots, and in an economy that values efficiency-uber-alles, we're going to continue to have this problem until we address the structural issues that make low-skilled work such a dismal and unsustainable lot. Whether than can even be addressed politically in our lifetimes, I'm not sure -- because the myth of American Meritocracy looms so large that it requires completely rethinking our economic value system.

    •  Very well stated, not having read the book. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Spit, tryptamine, CTLiberal


      "Never argue with an idiot; they'll drag you down to their level and beat you with the experience." ~ anonymous

      by panicbean on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 12:24:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's a good read (4+ / 0-)

        if you get the chance at some point. It's not perfect -- it's is flawed because Ehrenreich is coming from a point of view in which she can easily abort her "experiment" -- but she's very honest about that, and thoughtful in her approach to it. And many of her observations are extremely good ones, if largely fairly broad.

        •  See I believe all the others could opt out (0+ / 0-)

          too. The difference is that they don't know it and she does.

          •  Not so much (5+ / 0-)

            I just disagree with you there. I've been in that place, and when your day to day existence depends on getting up no matter what and going to that job so you can both pay rent and eat, it's very hard to get yourself out of that cycle. Going without a job for even a week or two can mean homelessness for most, because there's been no cushion in income with which to build savings. I've seen a lot of friends try to work out of it, and most to little avail (I've pulled friends off the street. And let my roommates be weeks late on their rent. I'm not trying to pat myself on the back for that, I'm saying that most of the time "opting out" doesn't work, from my personal observations.).

            I would still be stuck in it if not for luck -- in my case, the luck of having a wonderful partner who doesn't mind that I don't contribute my fair financial share while I go to school. And I've done enough time on a friend's sofa without any food to know that trying wind your way out of that life results in catastrophe more often than it results in any freedom.

            •  Because they don't know of options (0+ / 0-)

              that are available to them. I went and lived in an intentional community for a year to stop the bleeding and save some. Or find a coop living situation. Many people in this minimum wage circle are not the type of people one wants to have for a roomate. Too often they smoke or worse to dull the pain. Then no one will take a chance.

              And if friends let you sleep on a sofa why in the fuck wouldn't they feed you. That's so typically American I can't stand it.

              I had a friend in that situation who slept on my window seat. Someone had given her a box of chocolates which she left in a place that my dog got to and ate a bunch of chocolates. She was so furious when she found out that she kicked my dog. Right then and there I said pack up and get out. I have never seen her again.

              Very talented, smart and certainly should have known that a dog is never going to refuse temptation.

              •  Heh (3+ / 0-)

                And if friends let you sleep on a sofa why in the fuck wouldn't they feed you. That's so typically American I can't stand it.

                They couldn't afford food either. They barely made rent on their crappy incomes. It's usually the poor who help the poor, and I was grateful to not be sleeping again in my car.

                I went and lived in an intentional community for a year to stop the bleeding and save some. Or find a coop living situation.

                I think where we disagree, largely, is that most people simply don't have access to these kinds of temporary solutions. There aren't a lot of true coop living situations around, and most people who do these kinds of work are already living with at least one or two roommates to get by.

                Many people in this minimum wage circle are not the type of people one wants to have for a roomate.

                Depends. Most already do have roommates, in my experience. They still barely make it, because rent is obscene. And the working class does disproportionately smoke and drink heavily -- I still do both -- but when you're barely making a living, it's pretty understandable IMO that you're going to take little pleasures where you can get them.

                •  There are literally thousands (0+ / 0-)

                  of intentional communities and coops. If you don't know about them then find out about them.

                  The rationalizations for drinking and smoking won't cut it. Smokers are becoming pariahs in enlightened areas, which is where you want to be. I agree with you that the poor help the poor. But if you don't have money there are food banks, utility subsidies, food stamps so make use of them.

                  When I was sleeping on sofas I finally decided to check out senior living complexes. I got a great apartment with wall to wall carpeting, nice kitchen with all appliances and spic and span clean. All utilities including heat and air were included. Because of my income it cost me $18 a month. I mean you can't even get a storage room for that. If I made more for two months I was to report it and my rent would be adjusted. I would do a study, get some money for a month then take off for a month, then on again and so forth.

                  Yes you are only supposed to get those subsidized goodies if you are down and out. But they are structured in such a way as to stop you from getting up and walking by yourself, so you have to fudge it so you can.

                  And if you want to stop smoking see my how to diary on that subject. Really as long as someone smokes and has problems they are not going to go away. Nicotine is a greatly underestimated drug and nicotine addicts have symptoms that are predictable and destructive. It can't be helped until you stop.

                  •  So when and where are these people (3+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Spit, tryptamine, abbeysbooks

                    supposed to "find out about them"?  I think you miss the part about many people are at work when the libraries are open....and the food banks, and the utility office and the seperate human services office that issues food stamps.  

                    I applied for medicaid and WIC(Women Infants and Children) when I was pregnant with my first child(early 90's) and it took me a whole day. I'm sure I had to beg someone to switch shifts because if I couldn't that money lost would have meant the rent check would have bounced. There was the 45 minute bus ride, follwed by the several blocks walk to the office, followed by the time in the waiting room, follwed by the initial paper work, follwed by the interview with the case worker.  Later, to recieve the monthly WIC vouchers for food I had to pick them up in person(another bus ride, waiting room ect) and fill out more paper work. I stopped receiving these after a few months because I couldn't spare the time.

                    I think you got lucky with your senior living/cheap rent place.

                    Does satan wear a suit and tie, Or does he work at the Dairy Queen- Martin Sexton

                    by strengthof10kmen on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 05:21:44 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  It's different in rural areas (0+ / 0-)

                      You just walk in the office and since there are never very many people there it gets done quickly. I remember it being as you said in Philly. Endless bureaucracy.

                      And yet many rural people just don't seem to know how to do it. They think you are not working and so have the time to sit and wait and come back and come back. The difficult part in rural areas is that you have to drive 30 miles to get there and there is no public transportation.

                      When I lived in the county seat I could walk there. But here no one tells you or offers the info that you could get help with payments.

                      For example when you get parking tickets that amount to a lot of money you can file for pauper status so you don't have to pay.

                      Libraries are open at night. Food banks are not but I would call them, explain why I couldn't come in at their times and ask if someone else could pick up my food for me. You can get another person on your food stamp card to help you. It requires some manuvering but once you are in the system it gets easier. Also if you are on food stamps then it automatically qualifies you for all sorts of other benefits wihrout going through the endless application forms and paper work and waiting.

                      But in some areas it is possible to do this and get some relief.  It is also why you get that endless mantra in school to study now so you can have a good job later on in life. But the education system is so irrelevant to their needs that they can't find any meaning in it.

                      I chose not to have children as I didn't want to get caught in the trap. Once you have children they have you by the throat.

          •  Assuming they could (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Spit, TiaRachel, abbeysbooks

            (an assumption that I think Spit already addressed perfectly), who would do those jobs?  Someone has to do it (unless we all want to eat at Automats and have our houses cleaned by robots), so why not pay them a living wage to do it?

            •  Someone does not have to do it (0+ / 0-)

              It's the way the fucking culture is organized that requires low wage help.

              Maid service can be a profitable company if someone organizes it. They can pay benefits and have unions. A maid out on her or his own is prey.

    •  You said so well (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Spit, panicbean, myrealname

      what I couldn't get past my own emotions on the subject in order to articulate.  I couldn't answer the "Is any job better than no job?" question because it just broke my heart to think that those could be the only choices.  Thanks, Spit.

    •  Wanted to add (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tryptamine, TiaRachel, xanthe

      that a college education isn't even always a way out. Many of my coworkers in foodservice and retail work have been folks with degrees, who had a hard time finding jobs in their particular fields. The complete underutilization of educated workers is actually a major inefficiency in our current system, from a market-based point of view, and it's weird to me how often it's simply written off ("well, what did they expect, getting a degree in art history?") rather than addressed as a wastefulness problem that a pure free market cannot solve -- one that's going to become increasingly difficult for all kinds of folks as sectors expand and contract more and more quickly, and as globalization begins to include outsourcing to the increasing numbers of educated folks outside of our borders. An education is a great thing, but it's not necessarily a path to financial stability anymore.

  •  I read nickled & dimed 3 years ago, (6+ / 0-)

    so I don't remember 'Holly'. The take-away from the book for me was that it's just not possible to live the kind of 1950s ozzie & harriet life today in america if you weren't born to a family that could help you get a leg up or pass along an inheritance or property.

    When I finished high school i was easily able to get a job for $75/week, and got raises to $95 by the end of the 1st year. I paid $95/month for a very nice apartment in a college neighborhood, a block from supermarket, drug store, etc. I bicycled to work 2 miles away, and parked the bike in the storage room. Our food bill (I was the single wage-earner, newly-married), was $5/week. It was 1969.

    I just don't understand why the greed at the top wants to punish people like they do now.

    •  Holly (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      was the 23-year-old house-cleaner (I can't stand to say "maid") who had a husband and took care of an aging relative; she never ate much but fantasized about food all the time and was worried that she was pregnant.

      I didn't exist for awhile after 1969 and it is almost hard for me to believe that what you say could even be true; that's how screwed up the world as I've always known it is.

  •  Hi everyone (4+ / 0-)

    I will be hosting on th 10th.....and, even if you are emphatically NOT a statistician, I hope you'll join me.

    If you have an early question, respond to this comment and I will try to answer.

    What are you reading? on Friday mornings
    What have you got to learn? (or teach) on Saturdays

    by plf515 on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 12:28:17 PM PST

  •  Wisdom teeth out (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tmo, tryptamine, panicbean

    Please let me know as there is a medical research clinic in Austin tht pays you about $200 to get them out there. Supervised by teaching professionals as students do the work to get A's.

  •  I've actually worked on trailers in the Key West (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Spit, tmo, tryptamine, panicbean, myrealname

    trailer park she wrote about. It's a stinky, smelly hard rock drug slum with sewage in the roads.

    Listen Before You Talk.

    by ormondotvos on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 12:40:06 PM PST

  •  I grew up poor, but we lived in a poor area. (11+ / 0-)

    I never knew I was poor because my family was the richest of the poor. It wasn't 'til I married and relocated that I understood my parents' situation. My new husband and I struggled for years. But we were young and in love and took it almost as an adventure.
    I was fortunate to be born at a time when you could still live a better life than your parents. I was hired at a low levlel job in an insurance company. My skills were realized more than my lack of a college degree. My job became a career and my salary blossomed.
    Ten years ago I had to go on disability. The 401K (blessed to have one) could not and still can't be  touched. The disability income was small and my savings went rapidly. Today I am somewhat recovered and could probably work part time, but I am locked in those golden handcuffs. I've been out of the market for so long and I'm at an age that employers avoid - they say no, but they do discriminate. I could never earn enough to equal the amount I get from disability plus the taxes (which aren't paid on disability income. So what to do?
    Meanwhile I live lterally from payday to payday, happy when the heating bill is lower or my groceries don't cost what I'd budgeted. In a few years I can touch the 401k without penatlty, but it isn't enough to last long because I quit contributing so early.
    Still I am doing so much better than most of America. I cannot begin to imagine their day to day existence.

    •  Having read so much of what you have written (4+ / 0-)

      is it possible that you would be able to write for your local newspaper?  And can you earn any money at all while collecting disability?  I know nothing of the rules that apply.  Just too sad that someone wants to work, has a mind as good as yours, yet you are too old to be offered a decent paying position.

      "Never argue with an idiot; they'll drag you down to their level and beat you with the experience." ~ anonymous

      by panicbean on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 01:04:13 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Me too. I'm 73 and older than you (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xanthe, rgdurst

      and have no 401K.

      Have you gotten the govt assisted $226 for heting and then gone to the local assistance agency for more. Make ksure you don't pay your heating bill and get a shut off notice. Tell them you have an appointment to get assistance and you need a shut off letter.

      Apply for food stamps.

      If you are healthy you can do a medical study. Email me. For last weekend and the coming weekend of 3-17 I will get $1500, and this is a low pay one. I can hear the horrors from this group now. I took one pill of HRT estrogen replacement and let them do blood draws while I read books and schemed business with my tablemate. The only drawback is that I would love to be on HRT all the time. But then the study opportunities shrink.

      And read my above posts. All is not lost. Not at all.

      If you live outside the country for awhile and then come home you see this country as immigrants see it: bursting with opportunities. Entrepreneurial ones.

  •  I have a hard time relating to these jobs (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xanthe, Asinus Asinum Fricat

    I am degreed up my wazoo and it does me no good. Occasionally I have worked as a lecturer at a college but never got tenured as I wasn't politically savvy enough to do it. Neither did I get licensed as a psychotherapist when it would have been a slam dunk. But everyone around me was rushing after the carrot.

    The only big money I made was in real estate. Owning, renting and selling my own buildings and I almost got my RE license but didn't. I lost it all through betrayal.

    My favorite job was in the kitchen of a Japanese restaurant learning to watch so I could prepare and cook Japanese.

    At present I have just started a journalistic career and am hoping to get taken on permanently. I will owe it all to dkos.

    For money here's what I really do:

    SSRetirement (not much)

    Used books on the internet (not much)

    I bought a house in 2000, sold it in 2004 and am getting 400 a month as I take payments. I bought it with 4500 down in two payments two years apart and a mortgage of 175 a month at the bank. My buyers are losers who never keep their agreements. No money but money for booze and cigarettes, so I have no sympathy for them. Sorry. Owning real estate will put you in touch with a lot of scum. Not all but lots.

    And then I do medical research and test drugs for pharma research. I can make more in two weekends letting them draw my blood while I read books than I can make teaching an entire semester of statistics.

    I am checking ouut another building to turn into a cooperative living building. I will be holding the mortgage so someone can buy in without very much down.

    I found out pretty early that my non-authoritarian mode of operating was not appreciated. Nor do I do well in an authoritarian situation where I am expected to be like that. It usually takes awhile for them to catch on to me.

    I especially like Montaign's essay on education. And I love The Education of Henry Adams as I felt completely understood while reading that book.

    Today I listed four auctions on ebay. Nothing great but good pocket change. It increases my feedback numbers to do it. You see something cheap at a yardsale and then go home and list it on ebay.

    I know that anyone could do what I do without having to rely on a minimum wage job job. There are all sorts of people doing medical studies:students; artists;internet entrepreneurs;parents; and you name it. It is a great way to travel over the country, make money, meet lots of different people and network possibilities.

    Just this past weekend my tablemate was an older woman who turned out to be the perfect person I am looking for to work with on an idea for a lucrative money workshop I have been wanting to do for years. She is excited about it and intelligent enough to do it. She has a son in Iraq so I have directed her to come here. And she hates Bush as much as I do. She also appreciates what I know instead of trying to put me down for it as men are wont to do. Her ex husband for example, but she is on to him. She walked out of a marriage with nothing, no education, and she is awake.

    Open your eyes. The opportunities are there. Do a study, take the money and go trek overseas. When you run out, work for a time in that country and then go on. You will meet lots of people and get lots of ideas.

    You can only do this if you are free. I cannot now because I am rescuing dogs and cats and have a houseful.

  •  I think (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Spit, tryptamine, xanthe

    the great strength of this book is the way it reallly exposes the fact that society, as a whole, makes incorrect assumptions about people in these low-wage jobs--that they're lazy, lack ambition, are uneducated, etc.  People choose their jobs for a whole host of reasons, and frankly, if you're the person waiting on me at a restaurant when my kid is acting up, you deserve
    to be paid a lot more than you are at that moment!

    I try to be responsible about this, but I know sometimes I fail.  I try to tip well in restaurants, if I hire someone to clean my house, I like to do it from an agency that pays the cleaner benefits.  If someone's watching my kid, I try to remember that they're doing a job I don't want to be doing at that minute!

  •  Barbara's web site rec (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Spit, tryptamine, rgdurst

    Track down two articles:

    One on positive psychology

    the other on Truce in the war against christmas.

    She's great, and one of two on my personal blog list.

    Heres the link

  •  A great book. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Spit, tryptamine, xanthe

    I read N & D for the first time as a recent college grad, making $7.50 an hour at one of the country's premiere cultural institutions, where I sold admissions tickets. The two simultaneous experiences were eye-opening. Shortly thereafter when I found myself working another job, for a grand total of 60 hours a week, I felt pretty dramatic kinship with Ehrenreich. So much work, always on my feet, exhausting. The way people belittle those who work in "service" jobs is astonishing. By god, be nice to your restaurant hostess. She's nice to you, even when you're a dick.

    During that first read, I was annoyed at Ehrenreich for smoking pot even though she knew that some jobs did drug tests. I figured that she should have abstained to increase her chances of getting a job. But upon further reflection, it occured to me that I was holding her to the same standards of perfection that her employers--and society--do, and that we can't expect human beings to be perfect if they want a simple minimum wage job. God knows the CEO's are far from perfect themselves.

    Recently, a student of mine read that book, and had a similar awakening. He has a friend working for minimum wage, and it was enlightening to see him start to question how the system works, how work is rewarded. He started volunteering. :-)

  •  suggestion: Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the Soviet Empire.  (tho it's making a comeback)
    by David Remnick who now is editor of New Yorker magazine.  

    It's a remarkable book about the last days of the Soviet Union.  This is likely the book the West will read for an explanation of this period.  And Remnick is a compassionate writer as well.

    I think it won the Pulitzer - it won one big prize anyway.

    I have no patience with people who grow old at 60 just because they are entitled to a bus pass. Mary Wesley, British novelist

    by xanthe on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 02:57:28 PM PST

  •  I read the book already (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I enjoyed it although I really didn't need to read it. I have worked plenty minimum wage jobs during my lifetime.

    Like you my best experience believe it or not was food service. It was fast food and it was a chain. I made little but I knew I was valued. The mid level supervisors were almost always accomodating. They weren't making millions and knew we weren't making millions so having low turnover was basically about being nice to their employees. Oddly enough I made more at Walmart but did not nearly feel as happy but I think that has alot to do with management styles and behavior than the amount I made.

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