Reed Magazine February 2003
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nickel and dimed Intellectual and creative collaboration
leaves the theatre all but short-changed

by Margaret Boyle ’05
Photos by Craig Schwartz

nickel and dimed image Decades 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.

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Reed Magazine February
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