By Barbara Ehrenreich
Millions of american citizens paintings full-time, year-round, for poverty point wages. Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich determined to hitch them that allows you to learn how somebody survives on six cash an hour. So begun a gruelling, hair-raising and darkly humorous odyssey even though the underworld of operating America.
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Extra resources for Nickel and Dimed: Undercover in Low-Wage USA
Reflecting on her career, Gail tells me ruefully that she swore, years ago, never to work for a corporation again. “They don't cut you no slack. ” Managers can sit—for hours at a time if they want—but it's their job to see that no one else ever does, even when there's nothing to do, and this is why, for servers, slow times can be as exhausting as rushes. You start dragging out each little chore because if the manager on duty catches you in an idle moment he will give you something far nastier to do.
The downside of familiarity, I soon realize, is that it's not easy to go from being a consumer, thoughtlessly throwing money around in exchange for groceries and movies and gas, to being a worker in the very same place. I am terrified, especially at the beginning, of being recognized by some friendly business owner or erstwhile neighbor and having to stammer out some explanation of my project. Happily, though, my fears turn out to be entirely unwarranted: during a month of poverty and toil, no one recognizes my face or my name, which goes unnoticed and for the most part unuttered.
My first task is to find a place to live. I figure that if I can earn $7 an hour—which, from the want ads, seems doable—I can afford to spend $500 on rent or maybe, with severe economies, $600 and still have $400 or $500 left over for food and gas. In the Key West area, this pretty much confines me to flophouses and trailer homes—like the one, a pleasing fifteen-minute drive from town, that has no air-conditioning, no screens, no fans, no television, and, by way of diversion, only the challenge of evading the landlord's Doberman pinscher.