Book Review of Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Essay by wesleywilliamUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, May 2004

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Before making a great success in the restaurant and wholesale beverage businesses, Alice Foote MacDougall and her three children had been thrust into deep poverty by her husband's financial failure. Raised in wealth and high social standing, she had been forced to ask relatives for help and was humiliated by their presumptuous inquiries about her lifestyle and expenditures. In her autobiography, recalling the period of deep poverty that followed her affluent childhood and preceded her eventual business success, MacDougall relates, "Poverty is relative, and the lack of food and of the necessities of life is not necessarily a hardship. Spiritual and social ostracism, the invasion of your privacy, are what constitute the pain of poverty."

Barbara Ehrenreich aptly, though misguidedly, expounds upon this ideological construct in her book Nickel and Dimed. However, in her effort to transcend implicit cultural boundaries, Ehrenreich ultimately undermines both her credibility and her journalistic objectivity and integrity in a vain attempt to educate the masses on the evils of the corporate world.

In 1996, the Republican Congress passed and Democratic President, Bill Clinton, signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, (better known as welfare reform) replacing Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The law also gave states the primary responsibility for welfare, established a five-year cumulative lifetime cap on benefits and, to a large extent, shifted welfare expenditures from cash benefits to training and employment assistance.

Upon its passage, experts argued that wages would go down, families would dissolve and children would suffer needlessly. Barbara Ehrenreich goes further and asserts that people, specifically (if not especially,) women, being weaned off the welfare program due to welfare reform, have little hope of surviving in the world on the salary they are likely to garner...