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I don't review books I don't like!

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****Nickel and Dimed

On (Not) Getting By in America

by Barbara Ehrenreich

Reviewed August 2001.
A Sonderbooks' Best Book of 2001
Available at Sembach Library.

I read some heavy books this week.  The most moving was Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich (available at the Sembach Library).  The author decided to go out and get an “unskilled” job at $6-$7 an hour and see if she could keep a roof over her head and food on her table.  She did a month-long experiment in three different parts of the country.

She didn’t make out very well.  Although her situation was admittedly artificial, some of the most appalling and sad parts of the book were the stories of her co-workers.  Not many of them were doing better than she was.

Did you know that the government-defined “poverty level,” is based only on the cost of food and not on the cost of housing at all?  I didn’t.  The statistic was invented back in the days when food was a larger part of a person’s income than housing.  In Minnesota, she wasn’t able to find affordable housing that wasn’t scary.  I can’t help but wonder what she would have found in Los Angeles.  And she didn’t even have to worry about child care, as so many working poor people do.  Something’s wrong when it takes two jobs to put a roof over your head, or when you can tell a poor person by their missing teeth.  I’m not sure what the solution is, but this book certainly gave me food for thought.  It confirmed what I’ve thought ever since our own brush with the poverty level.  (Beginning Air Force enlisted people are not paid well.)  I don’t know how people do it.

Of course, here in Germany, they have many more social programs in place for families and for the unemployed and for health care.  They pay more taxes, true, but I can’t help but think they’re getting something good for their money.

Though her whole point was that you don’t have to be unemployed to be desperately poor.  That was the shocking thing about her story.  You meet extremely hard-working people in dreadful circumstances.  I strongly recommend reading this book so you can decide for yourself what you think.

Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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