||Intellectual and creative
leaves the theatre all but short-changed
by Margaret Boyle ’05
Photos by Craig Schwartz
after graduating from the college, two Reedies finally had the opportunity
to meet. From their union sprung a creative work well worth the wait.
While some 12 million women were being pushed into the labor market by
welfare reform, essayist and cultural critic Barbara Ehrenreich ’63
was prompted by an editor at Harper’s magazine to engage
in some investigative journalism and write a first-person account of an
uneducated working woman’s fate. So she went undercover, looked
for a job and a place to live, and tried to make ends meet. Her bestseller,
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (Metropolitan
Books) is the product of her experiment.
What Ehrenreich discovered, after years of examining
financial inequity in essays and such books as Fear of Failing: The
Inner Life of the Middle Class, nominated in January of 1990 as one
of the most distinguished books in the nonfiction category by the National
Book Critics Circle, was just how hard it is to “get by” on
earnings just a few dollars above the national minimum wage. Nickel
and Dimed details Ehrenreich’s arduous attempts to secure affordable
housing and the necessity of working two jobs to barely pay for lodging,
gas, and food.
But Ehrenreich puts a more personal spin on poverty in her sympathetic
sketches of co-workers and her sardonic anecdotes about common indignities
in today’s low-wage workplace. She writes about the mandatory drug
screening, intrusive personality tests, and iron-clad rules about not
speaking to co-workers during shifts.