Barbara Ehrenreich, On Americans (Not) Getting By (Again)

From Tom’s Dispatch: http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175428/

Posted by Barbara Ehrenreich
August 9, 2011.

It was at lunch with the editor of Harper’s Magazine that the subject came up: How does anyone actually live “on the wages available to the unskilled”?  And then Barbara Ehrenreich said something that altered her life and resulted, improbably enough, in a bestselling book with almost two million copies in print.  “Someone,” she commented, “ought to do the old-fashioned kind of journalism — you know go out there and try it for themselves.”  She meant, she hastened to point out on that book’s first page, “someone much younger than myself, some hungry neophyte journalist with time on her hands.”

That was 1998 and, somewhat to her surprise, Ehrenreich soon found herself beginning the first of a whirl of unskilled “careers” as a waitress at a “family restaurant” attached to a big discount chain hotel in Key West, Florida, at $2.43 an hour plus tips.  And the rest, of course, is history.  The now famous book that resulted, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, is just out in its tenth anniversary edition with a new afterword by Ehrenreich — perfectly timed for an American era in which the book’s subtitle might have to be changed to “On (Not) Getting a Job in America.”  TomDispatch takes special pride in offering Ehrenreich’s new afterword, adapted and shortened, for a book that, in its latest edition, deserves to sell another million copies.  Tom

Nickel and Dimed (2011 Version)
On Turning Poverty into an American Crime

By Barbara Ehrenreich

I completed the manuscript for Nickel and Dimed in a time of seemingly boundless prosperity. Technology innovators and venture capitalists were acquiring sudden fortunes, buying up McMansions like the ones I had cleaned in Maine and much larger. Even secretaries in some hi-tech firms were striking it rich with their stock options. There was loose talk about a permanent conquest of the business cycle, and a sassy new spirit infecting American capitalism. In San Francisco, a billboard for an e-trading firm proclaimed, “Make love not war,” and then — down at the bottom — “Screw it, just make money.”

When Nickel and Dimed was published in May 2001, cracks were appearing in the dot-com bubble and the stock market had begun to falter, but the book still evidently came as a surprise, even a revelation, to many. Again and again, in that first year or two after publication, people came up to me and opened with the words, “I never thought…” or “I hadn’t realized…”

Continue reading at:  http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175428/

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