Sunday, June 5, 2011

Review #8: Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

In this interesting work of nonfiction, Barbara Ehrenreich takes the reader into the invisible world of the lower class: the menial laborers who make life comfortable for the rest of us. In the late 90's, she decided to leave her middle-class life and live as the lower class do, subsisting solely on minimum wage and taking undesirable jobs. She takes a variety of positions in three cities, as a dietary aide at a nursing home, a Walmart salesperson, a waitress, and a maid. Throughout her experience, she uncovers some of the ugly truths of this life--the dark secrets that most of us never see or simply choose to ignore. This is an uncomfortable read, as she spares no criticism of the state of our society and the flaws of the middle and upper classes. She truly exposes the hypocrisy of our system and makes it clear that although we pride ourselves on being a free and equal country, there is an incredible disparity between the lower class and everyone else. She effectively undercuts many of the arguments of those who are anti-welfare: she makes us see that our society is incredibly flawed, in that even working a full-time job at minimum wage, it is near-impossible for a person to survive.

I really enjoyed this book--Ehrenreich has a very relatable voice and balances out the seriousness of her topic with a light-heartedness and humor. It was definitely a jolting read, though, as it made me feel guilty about my comfortably middle-class upbringing. We have a tendency to push our thoughts about the people who take care of us--our housekeepers, our waiters, our salespeople--and what they do out of our minds, but this book forces the reader to think about them as people, and demands our respect for the tremendously hard work that they do.

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