Nickel & Dimed | Barbara Ehrenreich

Summary of: Nickel & Dimed: Undercover in Low-wage USA
By: Barbara Ehrenreich


Nickel & Dimed: Undercover in Low-wage USA is a riveting insight into the struggles faced by millions of people who survive on minimum wage jobs in America. In this book, investigative journalist Barbara Ehrenreich delves into the world of low-wage workers by personally experiencing what it’s like to live on meager earnings. Venturing into multiple job roles from waitressing to hotel cleaning, she reveals the physical demands, emotional toll, and increasing instability that accompany this insufficient income. The summary sheds light on her journey and the realities faced by a significant segment of the population, bringing the truth of poverty in the United States to the forefront.

Living Below Minimum Wage

A journalist’s investigation into the reality of minimum-wage living in the US, revealing the challenges faced by millions of Americans who struggle to afford basic necessities like housing, food, and healthcare.

In the United States, poverty is an ongoing issue, with 12.1% of the population living below the poverty line. The circumstances of these individuals are challenging: they are unable to afford basic necessities such as adequate housing, nutritious food, and healthcare.

Despite the minimum wage hovering around $6-$7 per hour, research conducted by the National Coalition for the Homeless found that a person would need to earn at least $8.89/hour to afford a studio apartment’s rent. Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against people who earn less than minimum wage.

The Preamble Center for Public Policy discovered that only one out of every 97 people who depend on welfare benefits meets the education and qualification requirements for jobs with salaries above minimum wage. For millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet, is it possible to survive minimum-wage living?

The author of this book decided to find out for herself. She engaged in investigative journalism in 1998 to 2000, living on minimum wage by omitting her education and work experience from her job applications. She wanted to experience firsthand the challenges that millions of Americans face: finding housing, paying rent, and covering daily expenses.

This book is an eye-opening account of her experiences living below minimum wage, revealing the financial and emotional hardships that come with being part of America’s working poor. This powerful read sheds light on the harsh reality of poverty and the pressing need for conscious efforts to make living wages accessible to everyone.

The Struggles of Finding Affordable Housing and a Minimum-Wage Job

A woman embarks on an experiment to find out the realities of finding a new job and a new place to live. She begins her search in Key West, Florida and realizes how expensive it is to rent a place while working for minimum wage. After expanding her search to neighboring towns, she eventually finds a small apartment for $500 a month. However, it comes with a substantial daily commute and the added expense of keeping her car fueled. The author also highlights the many indignities that come with minimum-wage positions, particularly during the hiring process. She applied to a supermarket chain that included a 20-minute multiple-choice questionnaire and a drug test that required her to pee in front of a health worker, which she found humiliating. Overall, the author’s experiment sheds light on the challenges of finding affordable housing and a minimum-wage job.

Tough Reality of Minimum-wage Jobs

The author explores the experiences of working minimum-wage jobs, highlighting the tough reality of low pay and difficult work. She struggled to find a job in cleaning or as a waitress, showing the high turnover rates in these sectors. As a writer, she found it challenging to work in a fast-paced diner, with the multitasking and personal requests from customers making the job overwhelming. Despite the low pay, there was always something to do, leaving her exhausted by the end of her shift.

The Ups and Downs of Waitressing

Waitressing has its challenges and rewards, as the author recounts her experiences working in the service industry. While meeting interesting customers and making their day a little better added meaning to her job, management was unnecessarily cruel, always cutting costs and making the work more difficult for the employees. However, she also encountered kind coworkers like Gail, who used her tips to help a poor mechanic, revealing the generosity of broke employees. The author realized the difficulty of surviving on a waitress’s salary, while managers earned livable wages and sat around as they wanted, punishing their staff for taking even a second to rest. This led to everyone appearing busy, even when they weren’t. Despite the many obstacles, the author found solace in making customers happy and connecting with people from all walks of life.

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