Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
In the interest of full disclosure, I make roughly 50 percent of my area’s median income, which qualifies me for subsidized housing. Rent for a studio in my town is roughly $500 to $600 a month, and at my salary, I cannot afford anything more.
Heating bills are high, gas prices are skyrocketing and to be honest, some months it’s tough to pay all of my bills (student loans and car payments making the biggest dents in my income).
The above paragraph, however, is only to let you know that while my life might be hard, it is nothing compared to what Barbara Ehrenreich endures during her work on Nickel and Dimed. Her goal is to find the lowest-paid job and the cheapest apartment she can in any given town and see if she can make ends meet.
The results are startling. Simply, she can’t. She ends up paying $50 a day for the privilege of working at Wal-Mart somewhere near the end of her experiment, when the cost of gas, rent and food are taken into account. The closest she ever comes is while working two jobs, one as a maid and one as a nursing home assistant, working 7 days a week at minimum wage.
Granted, some of her figures are outdated. The book was published in 2001, and therefore some of the numbers are slightly off. For example, I believe the $7 Ehrenreich made working at Wal-Mart might now be illegal in many states – minimum wage in California was $8.50 last time I checked.
Her point remains crystal clear, however: the poor, even the working poor, are always with us, and nothing will change until wages are hiked. Telling residents on welfare to simply “get a job” is not enough – the jobs have to be able to support a single person, at least.
This is the most compelling piece of non-fiction I have read in ages – definitely worth the entire dollar I spent on it at a thrift store. I might recommend borrowing it first, but definitely give it a read.
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