Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America

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Nickel and Dimed: 

Book Description
The bestselling, landmark work of undercover reportage, now updated. Acclaimed as an instant classic upon publication, Nickel and Dimed has sold more than 1.5 million copies and become a staple of classroom reading. Chosen for “one book” initiatives across the country, it has fueled nationwide campaigns for a living wage. Funny, poignant, and passionate, this revelatory firsthand account of life in low-wage America—the story of Barbara Ehrenreich’s attempts to eke out a living while working as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart associate—has become an essential part of the nation’s political discourse. Now, in a new afterword, Ehrenreich shows that the plight of the underpaid has in no way eased: with fewer jobs available, deteriorating work conditions, and no pay increase in sight, Nickel and Dimed is more relevant than ever. Published in 2001, 240 pages

The Author: Tess Vigeland speaks with Barbara Ehrenreich in this Marketplace interview on the 10th anniversary of Nickel and Dimed.


Topics this book will bring up for discussion include:

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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?

For more discussion questions, go to LitLovers


Barbara Ehrenreich keynote speaker at the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference


Please share your thoughts about this title.

  • Have you experienced working full time, but still unable to afford housing, health care, and/or food?   Were you able to find assistance from friends or family?  Government programs?
  • What did your group think of the book?  Did it generate a good discussion?  Would you recommend this title for other book groups to read?