Sunday, January 11, 2009

Book Review: Nickel and Dimed


This book has been on my reading list for years. I was still in college when I added it, so it's been at least six.

My main problem with her approach is theoretical. She set herself up for failure. Poverty is not a solo affair. She plunged herself into a variety of settings with no family, no friends, no, for example, uncle who could give her a ride to work when her car broke down or cousin who she could live with while she found a place to stay. Even illegal immigrants tend to go to places were other illegals have established themselves. The trailblazers are a unique subset of the lower class.

One of the more interesting things, to me, was the impact that men have on the lower class lifestyle. A husband or boyfriend, among the women she met, was very often all the difference in the world. And not only from a solely economic perspective, as she discovered while living on a ground floor roach motel. Physical security was often just as much a part of womens' well being as the economic security men offered.

And just on a stylistic note, even though I knew this was a polemical piece, her populist, Marxist leanings are a bit forced, as well as rather condescending, but the false consciousness thesis has always appeared condescending to me.

4 Comments:

Blogger Noumenon said...

She plunged herself into a variety of settings with no family, no friends, no, for example, uncle who could give her a ride to work when her car broke down or cousin who she could live with while she found a place to stay.

Well, there must be some people like that out there.

One other way she has it tougher than normal is having absolutely no work history.

I read it about those six years ago and here's what I remember from it:
any day that someone tells me about only having time to commute and sleep before going back to work, I think of her sentence "this is what Marx termed 'the regenerative capacity of labor.'"

Whenever I hear about what GM employees really cost or people making minimum wage I remember how that guy who hired her as a maid charged $15 an hour for her labor. Just as a yardstick for a markup, and a reference image when I hear the word "entrepreneur."

I also have images of people living in hotels thanks to her. Oh, and that lady who worked at Wal-Mart and watched for things to go on sale from $3.65 to $2.65 so she could afford them. I never met anybody in real life who was that tight for money.

I actually liked that book well enough to try another of hers, Fear of Falling, which promised to be a primer on social class, but didn't contain nearly a book's worth of value.

4:53 AM  
Blogger Octavo Dia said...

Well, there must be some people like that out there.

You missed the last sentence. I said that trailblazers are small subset, just like the first immigrants are very different from the later immigrants.


I never met anybody in real life who was that tight for money.

Nor have I, but we've never lived in a truly economically depressed area, but the place she was living in where she met that person was booming at the time.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Noumenon said...

I don't think "trailblazer" covers the entire category of "people with no relatives to give them a ride to work." Between self-reliance, atomization and a mobile workforce, I bet America has plenty of people in that situation.

7:16 AM  
Blogger Octavo Dia said...

I don't think "trailblazer" covers the entire category of "people with no relatives to give them a ride to work." Between self-reliance, atomization and a mobile workforce, I bet America has plenty of people in that situation.

Remember the saying, "Friends are the new family?" One of her coworkers, who she had only known a few days, offered to let her move in with her family while she found a place. Where you work, when someone's car broke down, someone else would give them a ride to work for days or weeks. Work itself provides contacts with surprising rapidity.

8:55 AM  

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