August 20th, 2002

angry - books


I finished Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. I was underwhelmed. What exactly was the point? She admits in the Introduction, “But if the question was whether a single mother leaving welfare could survive without government assistance in the form of food stamps, Medicaid, and housing and child care subsidies, the answer was well known before I ever left the comforts of home. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, in 1998—the year I started this project—it took, on average nationwide, an hourly wage of $8.89 to afford a one-bedroom apartment, and the Preamble Center for Public Policy was estimating that the odds against a typical welfare recipient’s landing a job at such a “living wage” were about 97 to 1.” So instead of doing further research about that and perhaps writing essays urging more government aid or something, she decides to try her hand at being working poor.

Okay, so she proves that people aren’t necessarily poor because they don’t want to work, or even because they don’t work. She shows how difficult it is even for an able-bodied native-English-speaking Caucasian who has a car. She uncovers some interesting things, like how food pantries often give away junk food. (I knew this from working at the local food pantry. While we had a substantial budget with which to purchase healthy food and received bread donations from a local supermarket, people often donated junk food, so we distributed that as well.) Now what are supposed to do with this information? The author gives no suggestions as to what can be done to alleviate this. (She supports unionizing, but understands the obstacles to that.) I finished the book with a feeling of, “Okay, that was interesting, now what?” (As well as a squicky feeling about the author and privilege, but that’s hard to articulate.)