Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
For some reason, this book, Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, keeps popping up in my life.

Well, okay, it showed up on a list of "other items from this seller" at Half.com, and it looked intriguing enough to warrant a spot on my wish list, then I saw that it was a required text for some English graduate course at the local uni this past summer, and then I downloaded it from ahem and ended up making it apply to a required discussion on "Power" in my (required) Mass Communication class.

So anyway. I liked it... sort of. I like the author. Honestly I do. I think she made some excellent and necessary discoveries. I'm still for welfare reform, but I believe in what she says about how poverty feeds into itself if you don't sometimes have a big booster shot so you can establish a decent baseline.

The information on pay being withheld the first week, potential employees paying for and making time for drug tests, employees not allowed to stand still for even a minute just because it "looks unproductive" (yep, been to that rodeo myself), and the insight into just how filthy those nationwide housekeeping companies are was all great.

What I didn't like was that the research was half-assed over and over again. I know she acknowledges this, laments it, even, and that's one reason I really like her. But, when you're talking about an experiment in living in poverty, then talk about now and again going back to your lovely Key West home to spend the night and put five bucks in the jar for a scrummy dinner from your lovely Key West kitchen, the book takes an unfortunate turn, even more than the (thankfully) brief unfortunate turn it took when she criticized the upper class for having decorative antique books.

(Jesus, woman, who are you to assume that people are being pretentious based on some of their collectibles? My Mom has decorative antique books - yes, bought in bulk and no, probably never will be read - but she still genuinely enjoys them. Who are you to say how she must do that? And I guess if you came to clean my house and saw my book prominently displayed on the counter, you'd think I was the most arrogant of snobs, and you'd never know that I put it up there out of a sense of silly fun.)

I can easily handle that she doesn't have to factor kids into the equation, that she has a well-maintained car, that she might call her dermatologist and get a weird rash solved right away without dipping into the budget... but there were too many "I know I couldn't get away with this if I were really poor-type situations.

And then, in the end, not to give it away, she pines for the union she might have started at Wal-Mart if only she had more time. I was expecting an unhappy ending, but I didn't know it would be author-generated. I'm not necessarily anti-union, but her "solution" is as overly-simplistic as those who think those living in poverty just need a steady job to get by.

Again, I like the author, but the book is an apologetic "could've been." While I appreciated the glimpse of enlightenment and enjoyed her easy humour, this project would have done a much better job of preaching to those not in the choir if the research had been more credibly executed.

02 October 2003 |



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