3 reviews

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America
by Barbara Ehrenreich

Published: 2002
Paperback : 240 pages
14 members reading this now
27 clubs reading this now
8 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 2 of 3 members
A bestseller in hardcover, "Nickel and Dimed" reveals low-wage America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity. Instantly acclaimed for its insight, humor, and passion, this book is changing the way the nation perceives its working ...
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A bestseller in hardcover, "Nickel and Dimed" reveals low-wage America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity. Instantly acclaimed for its insight, humor, and passion, this book is changing the way the nation perceives its working poor.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


It is hotter inside than out, but I do all right until I encounter the banks of glass doors. Each one has to be Windexed, wiped, and buffed—inside and out, top to bottom, left to right—until it's as streakless and invisible as a material substance can be. Outside, I can see construction guys knocking back Gatorade, but the rule is that no fluid or food item can touch a maid's lips when she's inside a house. I sweat without replacement or pause, not in individual drops but in continuous sheets of fluid, soaking through my polo shirt, pouring down the backs of my legs. Working my way through the living room(s), I wonder if Mrs. W. will ever have occasion to realize that every single doodad and object through which she expresses her unique, individual self is, from the vantage point of a maid, only an obstacle on the road to a glass of water. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

Publisher's Reading Guide Questions:

1. 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?

2. Were your perceptions of blue-collar Americans transformed or reinforced by Nickel and Dimed? Have your notions of poverty and prosperity changed since reading the book? What about your own treatment of waiters, maids, and sales-people?

3. How do booming national and international chains -- restaurants, hotels, retail outlets, cleaning services, and elder-care facilities -- affect the treatment and aspirations of low-wage workers? Consider how market competition and the push for profits drive the nickel-and-diming of America's lowest-paid.

4. 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?

5. While working for The Maids, Ehrenreich hears Ted claim that he's "not a bad guy . . . and cares a lot about his girls." How do the assumptions of supervisors such as Ted affect their employees? How does Ted compare to Ehrenreich's other bosses? To yours?

6. Ehrenreich is white and middle class. She asserts that her experience would have been radically different had she been a person of color or a single parent. Do you think discrimination shaped Ehrenreich's story? In what ways?

7. Ehrenreich found that she could not survive on $7.00 per hour -- not if she wanted to live indoors. Consider how her experiment would have played out in your community: limiting yourself to $7.00 per hour earnings, create a hypothetical monthly budget for your part of the country.

8. Ehrenreich experienced remarkable goodwill, generosity, and solidarity among her colleagues. Does this surprise you? How do you think your own colleagues measure up?

9. Why do you think low-wage workers are reluctant to form labor organizations as Ehrenreich discovered at Wal-Mart? How do you think employees should lobby to improve working conditions?

10. Many campus and advocacy groups are currently involved in struggles for a "living wage." How do you think a living wage should be calculated?

11. Were you surprised by the casual reactions of Ehrenreich's coworkers when she revealed herself as an undercover writer? Were you surprised that she wasn't suspected of being "different" or out-of-place despite her graduate-level education and usually comfortable lifestyle?

12. How does managers' scrutiny -- "time theft" crackdowns and drug testing -- affect workers' morale? How can American companies make the workplace environment safe and efficient without treating employees like suspected criminals?

13. Ehrenreich concluded that had her working life been spent in a Wal-Mart -- like environment, she would have emerged a different person -- meaner, pettier, "Barb" instead of "Barbara." How would your personality change if you were placed in working conditions very different from the ones you are in now?

14. The workers in Nickel and Dimed receive almost no benefits -- no overtime pay, no retirement funds, and no health insurance. Is this fair? Do you think an increase in salary would redress the lack of benefits, or is this a completely separate problem?

15. Many of Ehrenreich's colleagues relied heavily on family -- for housing and help with child-care, by sharing appliances and dividing up the cooking, shopping, and cleaning. Do you think Americans make excessive demands on the family unit rather than calling for the government to help those in need?

16. Nickel and Dimed takes place in 1998-2000, a time of unprecedented prosperity in America. Do you think Ehrenreich's experience would be different in today's economy? How so?

17. 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?

Suggested by Members

Were you as aware of the challenges of America's working poor as you thought you were?
by bbreslin (see profile) 08/24/17

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

A valuable read. Thought provoking.
by bbreslin (see profile) 08/24/17
Sometimes we need to read to learn rather than just for entertainment. This book is one of those reasons. This should be required junior high reading. Reading it in high school or college is too late for a student to make the changes they might want too!

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Amanda B. (see profile) 06/21/22

by Terri L. (see profile) 02/27/19

by Brenda B. (see profile) 08/24/17

by Diane W. (see profile) 07/06/17

  "Nickel and Dimed"by Michele R. (see profile) 05/29/09

The book' strengths are in the details about how hard it is to find housing, decent food, and self-respect for those trying to survive on a minimum wage salary. It stimulated lots of discussion about member's... (read more)

  "The "haves" and the "have nots""by Andrea H. (see profile) 11/02/08

The book didn't come as any surprise to me. Hasn't this always been a problem? Greater minds than mine haven't had an answer. What is the solution?

  "Interesting read - lacks full picture of the issue at hand"by Amaliya L. (see profile) 01/05/08

I found this truthful and insightful however the writer was not discriminated for employment. As a white woman applying for work with high school dropouts and illegal immigrants she receive... (read more)

  "Follow Barbara as she experiences life, minimum wage style"by Star K. (see profile) 12/19/07

  "Eye opening to America's working poor"by Michele Q. (see profile) 08/27/06

I can't believe that in this day and age big and small companies think people can live on minimum wage. I liked this book and it brought up many discussions on weather or not it is the fault of the person... (read more)

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