Response to Nickel & Dimed

Though Barbara Ehrenreich claims that her under-cover research as a minimum wage worker for Nickel and Dimed (I can't get the underline/italics option to work) was purely scientific and objective, I personally found her project to be as scientific and research-based as Tyra Banks dressing up in a fat suit on her daytime talk show. In the introduction, or what should be called the massive disclaimer, she lists the many ways her research procedure was not strictly held to, in that she cheated and broke her own rules in living her "low income life," and also the many reasons why her project was not a heroic, undercover adventure and that it didn't uncover any unknown truths about lower class American life. While this humbles her paper and make her seem down to earth, I can't help thinking to myself, "so...why should we read this??" She even asks in her introduction, "Why should I bother to confirm these unpleasant facts?" and she fails to answer that question in her writing. While she claims that her main objective was strictly to find out if she could "survive" on minimum wage, and not to find out how it "really feels to be a long-term low wage worker," she actually does just that. Almost all of the content in her writing is dedicated to describing how pitiful the working conditions are in these common low-paying jobs and how much they simply make life suck. Working as a waitress, she does befriend her coworkers and writes fondly of many of them, yet at the same time, she tears down their lifestyle to a pile of shreds, even equating working for a restaurant to "Drift[ing] along like this, in some dreamy proletarian idyll." As if working as a server means you are not fully living your life, but just skimming by at the lowest, skummiest depths of society. She makes her experience working at the restaurant seem like it is the worst thing in the world, yet I'm sure any person in any field could easily list grievences about thier job. Like higher-paid workers who sit at a desk all day long working tirelessly for some major company from 9-5 only so they can drive home in their Ford Explorers to suburbia. Just look at the movie "Office Space," another prime example of how easy it is to highlight all the annoying, frustrating, demeaning things about working for any company. Ehrenreich wrote about every aspect of her low income job as if it were a grave injustice and a disgusting tragedy. Well, I found her reflection or "research"of the job very offending. My mother raised and supported me as a single parent and working as a waitress all my life, and I would never want her to feel ashamed of what she does or feel that others look down on her job as something that really sucks. In fact, I hope that the 30% of American that work for $8 and hour or less don't ever read this book because they would most likely need to go on anti-deppressants. As She said, nobody applauded her or gave her a cookie when she revaled her true identity and her project. Yea, maybe because they thought, "So what? Anyone can do this, I do it every day and I know anything that you are going to 'expose' about it. Get a life, and leave mine alone." But maybe that's just me. :) I guess the onlygood thing about this paper is that it flowed well, was easy to read -except for the moments when I needed to roll my eyes- and that it can give the middle class, well educated people with jobs "woth doing" something to feel good about when they go to sleep at night.


I had to read this for my Sociology class, my response was much the same as yours, though I failed the assignment because my teacher couldn't see anything but good in the book, here's what I wrote:

After reading through Barbara Ehrenreich’s novel “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America? it’s fair to say any solid, factual information the book may hold is completely buried under her elitist attitude towards the working poor; her annoying, yet boring writing style, riddled with logical fallacies, and finally her evident lack of concern for the poor, and even more evident concentration on the glorification of self. Ehrenreich writes about her “scientific study? as if she were J.K. Rowling; her overtone, and analogies seem better fit to a time when purple, fire breathing dinosaurs scoured the planet in search of hot, young princesses to kid-nap(2). This fictional approach to persuasion gives her already sickening story an almost unbelievable unpleasantness. Throughout the book she makes a substantial amount of claims which are more often supported by empty metaphors and similes than by information that’s actually relevant to Sociology. Not only that, but considering that this is a “scientific study? Ehrenreich is conducting; it seems as if it would be more fitting to present it in a short documentary, as opposed to a brain splittingly long novel (2). Luckily enough for readers, although, the book will rarely succeed in holding their attention as they try not to think about how badly they would stomp Ehrenreich if she were to magically appear in front of them, the parts that are daydreamed through most likely weren’t worth reading anyways.
The book begins with Barbara Ehrenreich, a bourgeoisie liberal, who immediately establishes her ethical appeal by declaring “[i] have a Ph.D. in biology,? and flaunting her “well paid writing life? as if it’s reason enough to take her book seriously (2-3). She becomes curious as to how people “make it on $6 [to] $7 an hour,? and attempts to clear this up through math but fails. On a whim she decides it will be much easier to relinquish her PhD, her home, and her, somewhat, rightful place in the social hierarchy all in exchange for an identity as a “minimally skilled homemaker reentering the workforce,? so that she may get a minimum wage job, and see for herself if it’s actually possible to survive (Ehrenreich 26). Now, reading about how someone looks for a crummy job, gets one, doesn’t like it and then quits is barely interesting to warrant even a single read, but six times is pushing it; HOWEVER, looking back on the novel now it’s easy to see how dredging through this monumental amount of bad Ehrenreich dares to call a story gives such an appreciation for…
Please forgive me as I step out of MLA robot-fuck mode for a second. Try to understand that if it weren’t for the restrictive guidelines that go along with this book report I would have just dismissed this whole thing as some, very boring, Marxist creep, spewing liberal propaganda. I didn’t actually read the book (don’t stop here), for some reason I simply couldn’t bring myself to do it. I searched on iTunes and found the unabridged audio book, put it on my iPod, and listened to it probably three times over, until it really sunk in. I hate Barbara Ehrenreich and I’ve finally come to understand the real beauty of her novel.
the parts where she suffers.
Apparently Ehrenreich was expecting her Ph.D. to simplify the manual labor for her, because she seemed somewhat surprised when waiting tables for 8 hours a day proved to be a “struggle,? and of course she’s genuinely “struggl[ing],? because if she found her job “not too bad,? or only “a little on the tough side? that could quite possibly hurt her novel sales (180). Early on in her low-wage life she comes to the conclusion “that no job, no matter how lowly, is truly ‘unskilled,’? she claims the low wage jobs she undertook were at times almost frenetic, requiring “ incredible feats of stamina,? “quick thinking,? “fast learning,? and good “memory? (Ehrenreich). Again Ehrenreich is using deceptive means to strengthen her claims. She deliberately leaves “fast? and “quick? undefined, because what’s “fast? to Barbara could be very slow to another person. She even goes on to contradict herself when she undertakes tasks, such as toilet cleaning, and shirt re-ordering, which are extremely elementary when compared to jobs that pay well, for example: teaching, or engineering. To make her case even worse she claims that the ‘comprehensive’ skill set many of the low-paid jobs demand put her at “risk of repetitive stress injury? (Ehrenreich 59). The “constant repeated movement? of Barbara’s ‘skill heavy’ jobs may turn out to be the end of her, oh, dear (Ehrenreich 59)! At every new job she seems to find the same “lifestyle of chronic deprivation and relentless low-level punishment? that was at the last, eventually throws in the towel and moves onto a different city and a different $6-$7 an hour manual labor intensive job, which to WHOSE surprise is never any easier for her (Ehrenreich 201).
It may seem inhumane, to some, to revel in the pain of our repetitious, old friend, but remember Ehrenreich has only participated in this experiment for her obviously pre-planned benefit, and that any “pain? she pretends to endure is supporting a large part of her novel’s argument. Ehrenreich’s claims almost entirely rely on readers to give into her emotional appeal; to feel sorry for the rich woman, even when she could choose to be instantaneously removed from her “unfortunate situation,? and later will (Ehrenreich 102). Once we’ve dispelled her many back aches, and disturbing Paruresis condition as logical fallacy all that remains is a sad, old, rich doctor working at low-wage jobs in a selfish attempt to popularize this novel she was busy planning years before her little ‘experiment’ ever took place (Ehrenreich 3). People who aren’t just taking a trial-run of life in poverty are in a much tighter position than Ehrenreich, but it’s definitely not as severe as she leads on. Wal-mart and McDonald’s aren’t the only employers on earth hiring people with only a high school diploma. There are thousands of jobs that require no more than high school graduation; last time I checked there weren’t very many firemen, or even policemen with 8 years of post-secondary under their belts. There are mills and construction companies that pay more than livable wages no matter how many kids need to be fed. At what point do we as people have to step in and say; shut the hell up, Ehrenreich there’s nothing stopping these employees from getting better jobs.
In Ehrenreich’s defense… never mind. I will use this paragraph to answer question number 2 of Richard Fredericks’ “Useful Concepts? handout, in which the term “totalitarian? is thrown around. Totalitarianism seemed to follow Ehrenreich just about everywhere, becoming especially apparent when she starts her final job at Wal-mart; however, if she could have been bothered to google “Wal-mart? prior to her application she would have saved herself from a “significant degree of corporate totalitarianism? (Fredericks). Ehrenreich describes her experience at Wal-mart as an “atmosphere of fear? where “you can be fired because you have a funny look on your face.? Union activity is strictly forbidden, and people are not only “punished,? but “fired all the time? for it. Assuming Wal-mart is this bad, as bad Ehrenreich claims in her book, assuming Wal-mart is as scary and as lowly paid as countless secondary sources attest; do the people that apply there suffer from some sort of rare mental deficiency that for some reason remains un-diagnosed? Perhaps these people are at least somewhat deserving of their place on the socio-economic ladder. It’s just too bad Ehrenreich can’t join them for the lifelong stay she deserves.
All in all “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America is a bad book, and if there’s a way to avoid reading it, do. If reading about how a less than crack journalist ‘roughs’ it for a few months as a minimum wage employee, but can at any time return to her over-privileged life as an upper-class citizen, and eventually does so that she can complain about her experience in a crummy novel in order to receive a mountain of plaudits from her many bourgeoisie associates appeals to you “get out.?

Works Cited
Ehrenreich, Barbara (2002). Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) getting By in America. New
York: Owl Books.

Fredericks, Richard (2008). “Useful Concepts.? Handout, Sociology 112, Malaspina
University-College, Nanaimo, BC.