Nickel and Dimed

By Barbara Ehrenreich, 2001.

I finished this book a few weeks ago (I’m really behind with all the stuff I want to write about), and didn’t make any notes at the time, so will only give a brief overview of it here. What struck me most was the sheer impossibility of anything more than subsistence living on the minimum wage in the US, and the pure fantasy of the American Dream of pulling yourself up from nothing.

I’d like to think that things weren’t quite as bad here in the UK, that you didn’t get the working-poor living four to a room in order to provide the minimum of food and shelter, but I just don’t know. I live a safe, middle-class existence, I have the safety net of savings and my parents owning their own home.

One of the reasons this book stuck in my mind was the author’s description of the sheer exhaustion involved in the kind of work she was doing at one point (waitressing). I volunteer to work with Workers Beer, and at the same time as I was reading this book I did bar work at Get Loaded in the Park. One six hour shift on one day left me too exhausted to do anything other than fall asleep when I got home, I can’t imagine doing that everyday, then going home to do house work, or cooking, or childcare, or going on to a second job.