"Nickel and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich.

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Eye Opening (If You've Been Living in a Hole)


By Barbara Ehrenreich

Henry Holt And Company, 230 pp., $13 (paperback)

The back cover and the last chapter's 25-page evaluation are the most gripping parts of this memoir, which without a doubt originated as an attention-grabbing idea but turned out to be an obvious, repetitive, and unrealistic account of American blue-collar life. Barbara Ehrenreich sets off to do the "old-fashioned journalism," leaving behind the comforts of her air-conditioned office. She ventures out to temporarily reconstruct her life to fit the mold that an unskilled welfare reform victim is destined to live in. Moving from Florida, to Maine, to Minnesota for a month at a time, she works in menial positions earning money and trying not to "cheat" and fall back on her savings account, mimicking what she imagines is the destiny of millions of Americans affected by reduction of welfare benefits.

In her efforts to imitate the real world, Ehrenreich places herself on a pedestal over her ambitious goal of "seeing what it's really like," reminding the reader no less than 8 times (an average of once every 30 pages) that she has a Ph. D., apparently to distinguish herself from the average people around her, lest we forget. She comes across as disdainful of the poorer people she encounters; be it their appearance, practices or beliefs, while simultaneously trying to identify with them. With an excessive amount of pity for herself (and those who genuinely walk in the shoes she is merely trying on), this makes for an unnecessary perspective of neither an actual worker nor an upper class boss concerned about the situation of his/her employees. Ehrenreich has a noble pursuit, to serve justice to the harsh arrangement the...