Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by In America – Reflection

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by In America

nickel and dimed

**Before I begin, I would like to note that this book deals with major political issues, mainly the debate about minimum wage. I have my own personal views and opinions about this issue; however, I do not want to offend anyone with my opinions. I will be commenting on the book and some of my personal opinions may be mentioned in this post. I would like to make it clear that I do not necessarily agree with this book or the messages found in the book. I am currently working towards the Florida Educator Accomplished Practices (FEAPs) under subheading 6, “Professional Responsibility and Ethical Conduct.” In my professional opinion, I believe that it is necessary to state this disclaimer about posting my views. I am open for discussion, including a discussion with someone who disagrees with me; however, I ask that all discussions remain professional and ethical. Thank you.**

As I have mentioned before (link to weekly reflection from 9/23/13), I have been reading the book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by In America. This book is about Barbara Enrenreich’s experiences working in minimum wage jobs in unfamiliar areas. Enrenreich sought to discover what difficulties occur when attempting to live while working at a minimum wage. Many people, including Enrenreich herself, have never experienced poverty before. Enrenreich details her journey in this book and in the very end she seems to have a small transformation based on her experiences. I would like to point out that the author performed this “experiment” in the late 1990s so a lot of the information in this book is outdated. In the tenth anniversary edition (the version that I am using), Enrenreich writes about some of the changes that occurred in the ten years that have passed as well as responses to the book in the section titled, “Afterword: Nickel and Dimed.”

The author’s main point is to reveal the hardships the working-poor face that one might not expect. Finding adequate, affordable housing, for example, was a major issue for Enrenreich and it was the main reason why she had to leave her job in Minnesota: “For purely financial reasons, my career at Wal-Mart is about to come to a sudden end anyway” (189). Enrenreich was forced to stay in a hotel which cost $49.95 a night. She was unable to find housing for a lower price, so when she discovered that she would be unable to afford her continuous stay at the hotel, she had to leave. “Could I have done better? In the St. Paul Pioneer Press of June 13, ‘Apartment rents skyrocket,’ the front-page headline declares; they’ve leaped 20.5 percent in Minneapolis in the first three months of 2000 alone, an unprecedented increase, according to local real estate experts” (Enrenreich 172).

Another issue that Enrenreich faced was finding an adequate food supply that she could afford. “I […] [seek] help one morning at a charitable agency. […] My interviewer asks if I can use some emergency food and I explain, once again, that I don’t have a refrigerator. She’ll find something, she says, and comes back with a box containing a bar of soap, a deodorant, and a bunch of fairly useless food items, from my point of view—lots of candy and cookies and a one-pound can of ham, which, without a refrigerator, I would have to eat all in one sitting” (Enrenreich 174). The difficulties that Enrenreich faces leads her to smoke and even try using illegal drugs in order to cope with the stress and the pain.

I believe that the author’s main point is applicable to my practice as a future educator is that I must realize that some of my students may come from a household which faces many of these issues and I must act appropriately and continue to respect and value everyone, whether or not they come from a situation like this. Parents may be forced to work a minimum wage job or even multiple jobs in order to stay afloat and even then the family may be struggling. As a teacher, I must realize that students may not be able to afford a long list of class supplies and the students may not have technology or books in their houses. This is not to say that I should make a judgment about these people; it is just the opposite. If I have a child in my future classroom that is unable to afford all of the classroom supplies, then I shall discreetly provide them with the tools needed to succeed. I believe that everyone can succeed, no matter what socioeconomic status (SES) they come from. Other factors such as race or gender should not affect whether or not I believe a student can succeed. I shall treat each and every person with the respect they deserve and I will work hard to make sure that my students can succeed.


There are seventeen questions listed in the back of the book. In my opinion, many of these questions are loaded questions, meaning they are set up in order to evoke a specific response (usually by making the reader fired-up and passionate about the issue or by sparking a debate/discussion between multiple readers).

I will be answering question number 16: “Nickel and Dimed takes place in 1998-200, a time of unprecedented prosperity in America. Do you think Enrenreich’s experience would be different in today’s economy? How so?”

I think that Enrenreich would have had a much harder time finding a job, let alone being able to “survive” working on minimum wage. In the book, Enrenreich noted that minimum wage increased between 1996 and 1999 from “$5.49 an hour (in 1999 dollars) in 1996 to $6.05 in 1999” (202). Although minimum wage has increased yet again to about $7.25 an hour, daily expenditures have increased as well. I believe that had Enrenreich been able to find a job, she would have found it difficult to pay for gas, food, and housing due to inflation. The unemployment rate has also increased and is currently at 7.3% for the United States of America. The unemployment rates were about 4.5% in 1998, 4.2% in 1999, and about 4% in 2000 (“Bureau”).

As Enrenreich states, “Things have gotten much worse […] since the economic downturn that began in 2008. When you read about the hardships I found people enduring while I was researching this book—the skipped meals, the lack of medical care, the occasional need to sleep in cars or vans—you should bear in mind that those occurred in the best of times. The economy was growing, and jobs, if poorly paid, were at least plentiful. In 2000, I had been able to walk into a number of jobs pretty much off the street” (228). I believe that Enrenreich would not have been able to find a job, and she agrees: “It would have been impossible to repeat my Nickel and Dimed “experiment” had I been so inclined, because I would probably have never found a job” (229).


          I also commented on the blog posts about Nickel and DImed that were written by of some of my peers. You can find the comments that I posted here and here.


  • “Bureau of Labor Statistics.” United States Department of Labor. N.p., n.d. Web.
  • Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York City: Picador, 2010. Print.
  • “U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis.”Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update. N.p., n.d. Web.

2 thoughts on “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by In America – Reflection

  1. Nicole:

    Might I say, you definitely found a logical way to approach and word your response. I found it eloquent and fair (though I didn’t think mentioning the author’s use of drugs was necessary or particularly relevant). I appreciated your use of references and examples to further expand the points you chose to make.

    I agree with you regarding the main point of the book and how it applies to your future teaching. There are factors of our students’ backgrounds that we “might not expect,” but still need to take into consideration in order to meet their educational needs. You mentioned their parents’ possible economic situation and how that could affect whether your students are able to come prepared to class. This is a valuable point to consider, but it is not the only point worth stating. Parental involvement in your students’ education is necessary, but because of their time-constricting jobs or other responsibilities, they may not have the opportunity to be there in the way that you expect them to be or they may want to be. This also affects your students’ learning and is something that, as a teacher, you need to be aware of. It will change your expectations and community view. I would like to have seen this connection mentioned in your post, though I am sure you are not unaware of the concept already.

    I have no arguments regarding your response to the discussion question. You answered it concisely and thoroughly. It is almost hard to believe that, at the time the book was written, the availability of jobs was high enough to outweigh the supply of workers (though the conditions of those jobs were less than desirable). Such a situation isn’t truly comparable to today.

    1. Thank you for your response to my blog post as well as your compliments. I would like to address some of the statements in my post that you questioned. I mentioned the Enrenreich’s drug use because it was a very surprising concept to me. I honestly did not expect her to use drugs in order to cope with the stress of working a minimum wage job. Having never undergone the stress of working a minimum wage job, I cannot possibly understand just how difficult it may be to survive. Sometimes there are few ways to cope with the stress of a tough job. So some people who are unable to find ways to cope with their stress turn to cigarettes or illegal substances in order to provide some solace to themselves. I am, of course, not saying that everyone uses illegal or legal substances as a coping mechanism or that it is ‘right’ to use illegal substances. I believe that everyone should follow the laws set forth by our government. I am simply pointing out that this is an issue that was discussed in the book.

      I decided to include this in my reflection because it is an issue that some people actually deal with in their daily lives. When applying for some jobs, Enrenreich had to take a drug test that she had to pass which was very stressful for her. Whether or not someone uses illegal substances, the processes that one must undergo for drug tests can be seen as humiliating: “What surprised and offended me most about the low-wage workplace […] was the extent to which one is required to surrender one’s basic civil rights and […] self-respect. […] Drug testing is [a] routine indignity. […] Most jobholders and applicants find it simply embarrassing. In some testing protocols, the employee has to strip to her underwear and pee into a cup in the presence of an aide or technician. […] Urination is a private act and it is degrading to have to perform it at the command of some powerful other” (Enrenreich 208-209).

      I realize, of course, that there are many factors that can affect students. As I wrote in my blog post, “I believe that everyone can succeed, no matter what socioeconomic status (SES) they come from. Other factors such as race or gender should not affect whether or not I believe a student can succeed. I shall treat each and every person with the respect they deserve and I will work hard to make sure that my students can succeed.” There are of course other factors that affect students; however, in order to keep with my professional and ethical judgment, I decided to limit myself to detailing one factor so I could avoid making assumptions. I commented on another peer’s blog post and mentioned parental involvement:

      “I believe it is extremely important to avoid making assumptions based on stereotypes or factors such as race, gender, or socioeconomic status. In the classroom that I am currently interning at, our students must complete a reading log each night that is supposed to be signed by the student’s parents or guardian. My collaborating teacher and I never take off points for a missing signature. There are so many reasons why a parent is unable to sign. As you mentioned in your post, some parents have to work two jobs in order to pay for the needs in their daily lives, so after work, a parent may be rushing to perform chores around the house or make dinner or the parent may just be too tired to sign. I love your statement that we cannot assume that parents do not care. Parents *always* care about their children but they may not have the time to do everything so signing a student’s reading log may take a back seat to cooking dinner for the family or watching the children. I completely agree with your statement that: ‘The only thing we can assume is that each one of our students will have a different situation at home and it is our job as teachers to be aware and provide any accommodation possible to help these students achieve greatness.’”

      I really appreciate your thoughts about my blog post. Thank you for your comments.

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