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Belated Book Review: Nickel and Dimed (2001) August 12, 2015

Posted by geoff in News.

All the minimum wage hoopla reminded me of a post I’ve long wanted to write: a brief debunking of Barbara Ehrenreich’s liberal classic, Nickel and Dimed.

Back in 2001, Barbara Ehrenreich (a writer with a PhD in biology) decided that she would experience just how hard it is to get by on entry-level jobs. Dr. Ehrenreich tried several jobs during 3 months spread over 2 years, sometimes two at a time (well, for a grand total of 3 days), including waiting tables, cleaning hotel rooms (well, for 1 day), cleaning people’s houses, being a nursing home aide, and working at Wal-Mart. She wrote up her experiences (with much drama and angst) in Nickel and Dimed and the book was a bestseller, forming part of the foundation and mythos of the Left’s class wars ever since.

I applaud her spirit in getting her hands dirty and diving into those sorts of jobs, but her blindness to logic and reality permeate her decisions and her actions. For example:

Unskilled Jobs. Her lack of logic is most directly shown with her statement,

The first thing I discovered was that no job, no matter how lowly, is truly “unskilled.” Every one of the six jobs I entered into in the course of this project required concentration, and most demanded that I master new terms, new tools, and new skills – from placing orders on restaurant computers to wielding the backpack vacuum cleaner.

That’s a nice sentiment, but a demonstrably false statement given her own experience. The jobs she worked typically required one day of training, and she never lasted at a single job more than a month. So those mad skills she’s lauding aren’t all that – she was able to work by the second day, and I think if she had worked for more than a month, she would have found herself on autopilot on pretty much every task she encountered.

Contrast this with the 10 years of education and training before she was granted a PhD in biology.

Time in Grade. The lowest wage you’ll ever earn at any job is, of course, your starting wage. It’s common to see wage increases after you’ve proven that you can do the job and will stick with your employer. She never stays long enough at a job to ever get a raise, nor does she stay in any profession long enough to move laterally to a better-paying company.

As a side note, everybody knows that transitions are more expensive than maintaining the status quo. I.e., moving is expensive, setting up in your new place is expensive, getting the money for deposits is expensive, etc. Staying longer in a given area and at a given job gets you past a lot of the one-time transition costs.

Poor Financial Decision Making. Naturally, it’s very difficult to make ends meet on minimum wage, when you’re a person who is unwilling to share lodging or resources. Ms. Ehrenreich’s refusal to share anything is often at the root of her financial woes. For example, she notes the sad case of a couple who are staying at a Days Inn where almost all their wages are expended on their room. When a coworker gets thrown out by her boyfriend, she goes to stay with the couple at the motel.

But why didn’t Ms. Ehrenreich offer to share her little trailer with the coworker? She could have halved her rent and utility bills, giving her a little disposable income (she was taking home ~$1030/month, and her rent was ~$650/month). Didn’t even occur to her, apparently, even though pretty much all her coworkers were living with someone (and sometimes a lot of someones).

She had a lower rent for a unit farther away, but the savings were getting eaten up by gas. Again, sharing the commute would have solved her problem. Apparently she’s not that environmentally-friendly.

Finally, she turns down a $10 job at Menards for a $7/hr job at Wal-Mart, in part because she’s so rattled and shaky she can’t think straight. Is there any point in listening to anything she has to say?

Why Are Entry-Level Wages So Low?: Dr. Ehrenreich asks this very question at the end of her book, immediately blaming on eeeevil employers and the docile workers who refuse to demand higher wages. Maybe. But she tells us earlier another, more obvious, reason why wages are really so low:

…most, but by no means all, of the working housekeepers I see on my job searches are African Americans, Spanish-speaking, or refugees from the Central European post-Communist world.”

Yes, Virginia, importing low wage labor will keep wages low. It’s a classic case of increasing the supply without increasing the demand. And of course businesses love it and want even more of it, even up to skilled professions like engineering and information technology.

Her solution is to increase the minimum wage, ignoring the counterproductive inflation and the greater attraction of the US job market for legal & illegal job seekers.

Conclusion. Her experiment was compromised by stupid decisions throughout, and her book is written with the whiniest, most self-important tone we’ve seen since Trump’s Art of the Deal. It’s sad so many liberals think this is meaningful or constitutes research.


1. Cathy - August 13, 2015

“Stupid is as Stupid does.” And this author is stupid. If she were smart, she would have re-read her book before getting it published and been ashamed of herself. But she’s too arrogant and too stupid.


I would not have been able to endure reading this kind of stupidity — so THANKS, Geoff, for doing it for me.

This woman also sounds incredibly lazy. Definitely a liberal agenda.

Over the past few months I’ve gotten to know a bunch of AMERICANS, ALL COLORS, SHAPES and SIZES. Some are born here and some immigrated LEGALLY. They WORK at these sorts of jobs that this stupid woman could not deal with.

Yea — a wedding and a funeral created lots of things that were worth selling to someone who would appreciate ’em. Yard sales, Facebook, CraigsList, AutoTrader, etc. are helping us divest a lot of personal property — and in the process have met a LOT of very cool people.

AND I’ve come to appreciate is just how AMAZING this country is!!! This Nation is filled with awesome hard working folks who are willing to work hard to live a life being careful with their money -by using the good old fashioned “cost benefit analysis” to make their lives better.

We bought furniture from a LEGAL IMMIGRANT from Pakistan who works harder than anyone else in that furniture store. His sales top all other sales representatives put together. He is married to an AMERICAN CITIZEN and looks forward to the day when he will become a LEGAL CITIZEN. He was kind, patient, knowledgable about the products. He has a full university degree but is willing and able to do this kind of work BECAUSE he knows hard work will help him succeed IN AMERICA. HUMILITY!! HARD WORK!! A WINNER!

We sold a vehicle to a young couple who are both LEGAL IMMIGRANTS from Brazil. They both came here as children LEGALLY with their parents and met through the Brazilian-American circles. They have three beautiful daughters. Both have college educations. He is a manager at his place of business — and you can tell he is sharp with details and understands human behavior. I could easily see myself working under his POSITIVE UPBEAT supervision. She worked in her family’s business and was quite sharp, but is now a stay at home mom. They HELP other young couples in their BRAZILIAN circles — but ALL ARE HERE LEGALLY. They are Christians and practice it, AND they work very hard to find good prices on things to purchase through the internet. She is the shopper and family bookkeeper and knows the ins and outs of online shopping. They are NOT TOO PROUD to buy used items.

We sold an entire bedroom set AND dining room set to a MEXICAN AMERICAN lady who is also a LEGAL CITIZEN. She cleans homes. Her grown daughter just graduated from university with a business degree. She told us she has taught her daughter that HARD WORK and APPLYING YOURSELF are the keys to success here in AMERICA. She is GRATEFUL to be here and was able to come up with a lot of CASH to purchase all that furniture because she is so careful with her money.

WE sold a lot of odds and ends from our yard sale to a wonderful couple who are both AMERICAN CITIZENS and LEGAL IMMIGRANTS who both came from ECUADOR. They have been married and here for about 25 years. He works on cars and his hands looked it. She cleans homes but she is a beautiful, small frame woman, and sharp as a tack. They are both CHRISTIANS who go to church and are passionate about ministry in their hispanic Christian community — are caring for those less fortunate. His mother has failing health, but they care for her despite the fact that they are also poor people. But they are HAPPY and STILL IN LOVE. You can see it in their faces. He was so grateful to be able to purchase some of our things that he said we should come to his home for a visit sometime. He lives near the “Jerry-Dome” and said that if we ever go to a Cowboy’s game, that we are welcome to park our vehicle in his yard — I guess he lives that close. Maybe he has a little event parking business at times when the Jerry-Dome is packed with fans. SMARTS! GENEROSITY!! KINDNESS!! GRATITUDE!! HARD WORK!!

Some of the items we sold at a yard sale were items that needed repair or fixing-up. Odds. Ends. Tools that looked like they belonged in the trash. Buyers saw potential and were willing to pay us money for them because they had the SPINE, INTELLECT, and KNOWHOW to take those things and MAKE them into something of value. RISK TAKERS!!

I could tell you more stories. Several of them involve the incredible physical strength and smarts needed in moving and loading items, that I witnessed in small framed men and women. I can assure you that most folks we met are probably smarter, stronger, and more industrious than the gal who took out time to write and publish this offal.

I’m the daughter of a LEGAL IMMIGRANT. My husband’s grandparents were also LEGAL IMMIGRANTS. My mom and dad relocated to Kansas from New York post World War II because there were better jobs for a mechanical engineer in central Kansas than in New York. Central Kansas was not a nice place to live. My mom DROVE herself to KANSAS pregnant and nauseous to meet up with my dad who was already there. She had to deal with dirt from dust storms, flat farm land devoid of the culture, fun, and the hustle and bustle of New York, but she knew her place was with her husband and his better job. At one time my mom and dad had an apartment in the BASEMENT of someone’s home and their bedroom was a whitewashed COAL BIN. My mom and dad always smiled when they told that story. They were never embarrassed about humble beginnings. They were proud that they worked hard and watched their money. My folks were ALWAYS GENEROUS and GRATEFUL people. They had bills to pay also and they always carefully watched their money, but they also never turned away anyone who needed help. I could tell you HUNDREDS of stories about how they went out of their way to help family and those less fortunate.

I’m humbled by folks like this, but also energized. They have given me new hope for the future of this Nation. “WE the PEOPLE” will not give up or give into the kind of liberal rubbish.

Just watch us.

2. geoff - August 13, 2015

You should make that a post, Cathy.

3. Cathy - August 13, 2015


4. Jimbro - August 13, 2015

Cathy’s comment blows away anything I was prepared to write. I’m also the son of a legal immigrant who worked his association to give me the opportunity to thrive in America. He had zero desire to return to the Old Sod other than to visit his mother when she was still alive.

And, yeah, that book’s message stinks.

5. Jimbro - August 13, 2015

association = ass off

Stupid spellcheck!

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