Sunday, November 21, 2010

Book Review: Nickel and Dimed

I had Nickel and Dimed one on my 'to read' list for a long time, after Adam originally recommended it to me. It's an illuminating, if somewhat depressing read.

The author spent a year doing a stint of low-wage jobs in a number of cities around the country, trying to see if she could support herself on a minimum wage job. She spents time working as a waitress, a cleaning lady, a Walmart clerk, and a number of other positions, sometimes working two jobs while also apartment hunting or dealing with other administrivia.

What she finds isn't surprising; that people earning the minimum 'living wage' in this country can get by, barely, often by leaning on friends and family to share rent and the like, and that any moderate expense (e.g. a medical one, or a car repair, or first/last months rent on a new place) can start a snowball effect toward homelessness pretty quickly.

What's maybe more illuminating (not in the sense that we didn't know, but that it shone light on what we like to keep in the dark), is that it's not that the so-called working poor are lazy or stupid. Rather, they are subject to a system that bleeds its poorest dry. The flipside to the rich-get-richer is of course that the poor get poorer.


Anonymous said...

hey kim - i just read this book as well (about two months ago). having been a minimum-wage restaurant hand, not much of it was surprising to me, though.

KimPallister said...

Ya, I've done a bunch of waiter/dishwasher type jobs. Also a number of under-the-table jobs where I suspect others were working for under minimum wage (garment factory, snow shoveling in industrial parks...)

I did those when I was 16-20 years old and living with mom and dad. Didnt have to think about supporting myself, let alone a family.

So yes, the details weren't surprising, but thinking about it in aggregate, knowing what I know today, was depressing.

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