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

Response and criticism

Barbara Ehrenreich states in her book that her goal is to “see whether or not I could match income to expenses, as the truly poor attempt to do every day.[1]” "Nickel and Dimed" has received a significant portion of the criticism from how Barbara Ehrenreich started her adventures. Keeping her goal in mind, Barbara Ehrenreich began her study with money already in her pocket, which typically is not the case for the working class poor. One critic of Barbara Ehrenreich, Michael Tremoglie, wrote, “According to the Commerce Department the poverty rate for a single person younger than 65 in 1999 was $8,700 per year. Barbara was earning 170 percent of that. Even the liberal Economics Policy Institute states a living wage is 130 percent of the poverty standard.[2]” As such, Barbara was earning more than what is considered the poverty level leading one to ask whether or not her book was actually very well researched. The same critic goes on to say, “Was Ehrenreich obscuring the facts, or did she fail to research her book adequately? Her book is either shoddy scholarship or leftist propaganda.[2]” Critiques like these have led to multiple responses to Barbara Ehrenreich’s work.

In response to Nickel and Dimed, Adam Shepard undertook a project that he later wrote about in his book Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream. A February 11, 2008 article in The Christian Science Monitor summarizes his story.[3] With only $25 in his pocket, Adam Shepard spent 10 months in South Carolina, eventually landing a job, buying a pickup truck, and renting his own apartment.

Another response to the book came from Charles Platt, author and former senior editor at Wired Magazine, who took an entry-level job at a Wal-Mart store and recounted his experience on the blog Boing Boing. While his account reaffirmed some of Ehrenreich's experience, including the low pay and tedious nature of the job, Platt also reported positive experiences with supervisors, safety training incentives, and employee autonomy and treatment.[4]

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