Thursday, June 21, 2018

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

A pretty famous pop culture touchstone, but one I had never read. It's an interesting read -- Ehrenreich spends a month each dabbling in minimum wage jobs and trying to make ends meet, works hard, and does end up with some insightful observations about the plight of the minimum wage worker (though she doesn't address the fact that so many of these jobs are done by women, but that's a whole other story). I sympathize with what critics attack as her "socialist politics" and the conclusion she draws -- that the minimum wage is unliveable for many -- is pretty incontrovertible. 

However,  Ehrenreich-as-narrator never really breaks through her privilege and simply doesn't go far enough. She starts with seed money, she walks away from jobs when she can't make them work, at one point she calls her dermatologist for a long-distance prescription! As a middle-aged privileged white lady myself, some of the parts where her privilege shows through hit a bit close to home.  Erenreich got an important conversation started, but it's a decade old now -- maybe it's time for a real minimum wage worker to tell her story.

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