Rummanah Aasi
  Out of the seven books I've read for Banned Books Week, I'm more shocked and confused as to the reasons why Barbara Ehrenreich's best selling book Nickel and Dimed was challenged. The book is listed as the 8th most challenged book in 2010. With our economy in shambles and unemployment increasing, I would think more people would want to read Nickel and Dimed.

Description: Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the idea that having a job can be the ticket to a better life, but how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich went undercover and discovered the dark side of U.S. employment.

Review: I've heard great things about Nickel and Dimed for quite sometime, but never got around to actually reading it until now. I admit my expectations for the book were pretty high and I was a bit disappointed when the book didn't meet them. I was expecting a bit more of an analysis about the minimum wage jobs and more of a self-reflection from Ehrenreich herself, however, the book presents itself as a sociological experiment noting down only the results and very little explanation. 
   Ehrenreich is a well known social critic. After having lunch with a magazine editor at a pricey restaurant, Ehrenreich wonders aloud what it is like to be on the bottom of the working class. How can anyone survive just by working at a job that pays below the minimum wage? Ehrenreich curiosity led her to a social experiment where she subsequently spent about three months in three cities throughout the nation, attempting to "get by" on the salary available to low-paid and unskilled workers. Unlike many others who are employed at extremely low paid jobs, she is white, English-speaking, educated, healthy, has transportation and burdened by a family to take care of. During her stint at three cities, Ehrenreich tried to support herself by working as a waitress, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart employee. While employed she discovered that her average salary of $7 per hour couldn't even provide the necessities of life such as rent, transportation, and food, let alone the luxury of health coverage. 
  Enrereich's personal account is eye opening, enraging, and sobering. She holds nothing back as she describes how labor-intensive, demeaning, and controlling such jobs can be. I found the sections about her various jobs interesting. I had a hard time trying not to read the book as a novel but as an essay instead, but that is just because I'm so use to reading fiction with fast paced novels. In a concluding chapter, Ehrenreich takes on these issues and poses questions before and during the experiment such as why these wages are so low, why workers are so accepting of them, and what Washington's refusal to increase the minimum wage to a realistic "living wage" says about both our economy and our culture. There are a lot of questions asked but not many possible solutions given.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies, Business Education

Why the book was challenged/banned: In 2010 at the Easton, Penn. School District (2010) the book challenged due to a parent's claim the book promotes “economic fallacies” and socialist ideas, as well as advocating the use of illegal drugs and belittling Christians. Despite these claims, the book was retained, however; the book was removed from the Bedford, N.H. School District’s required Personal Finance course in 2010 after two parents complained about the “book’s profanity, offensive references to Christianity, and biased portrayal of capitalism. Source: ALA

Words of Caution: I'm not sure how the book promotes "economic fallacies". It's hard to deny jobs that there are jobs available that pay less than the minimum wage and often times these jobs are the less desirable ones. Though Ehrenreich does lean towards a socialistic viewpoint and uses words such as proletariat and bourgeoisie in her description, I don't necessarily find these terms to express socialist ideas but just ways to show the large difference between the high earning and low earning classes. The author doesn't mention about income distributing equally but rather wanting workers to protest to get a better wage for themselves and stand up for their rights. There is language in the book, which in my opinion, shows how frustrating the circumstances the author finds herself in. As for the use of the illegal drugs, the author points out how often the question of drug use appears on job applications and is a concern of employers. In regards to the belittling Christians, there are a few references where Enhrenreich compares being a maid to a prostitute as stating Mary Magdalene's job which I agree is in bad taste. Due to the book's content, I would recommend to adults and high school students interested in economics and social issues. 

If you like this book try: Kara, Lost by Susan Niz or Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class by Barbara Ehrenreich

   According to, the winner for the The Predicteds giveaway is Sablelex! Congrats, Sablelex . I sent you an email. Please respond within 72 hours or I will have to pick a new winner.
3 Responses
  1. LoriStrongin Says:

    It's always interesting to me to see exactly *where* the
    "ban this book" outcries are started--in this case, a mostly upper class, conservative town, which figures based on the subject matter of this book. Somehow, I don't think readers in New Orleans or Queens, NY would see anything to complain about.

    I agree with you that something problematic I see in this book is that the MC has so many advantages over others in this lower-working class: she's white, speaks English, and is educated...all things you can't hide or fake in a social experiment like this. So, to me, the results Barbara reported here are kind of skewed.


  2. Well, that is a shame. I'll be honest and say I was expecting much the same as you. An exploration of minimum wage and how it isn't meeting the cost of living standards.

    I don't think I'll be checking this one out. Seems I've gleaned all I need to know about it from your thorough review, Rummanah. Thanks!

  3. How funny that "Christians" are offended by portrayals of poverty. I really liked this book, although sometimes the author's agenda became a little too blatant for my taste.

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