Nickel and Dimed: Even low-wage jobs now too scarce

Barbara Ehrenreich offers a revealing new afterward to her seminal Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America.

The book recounted her experience getting by as a low-wage worker 10 years ago.  The situation now is even more dire:

"When you read about the hardships I found people enduring while I was researching my book -- the skipped meals, the lack of medical care, the occasional need to sleep in cars or vans -- you should bear in mind that those occurred in the best of times. The economy was growing, and jobs, if poorly paid, were at least plentiful.

"In 2000, I had been able to walk into a number of jobs pretty much off the street," she went on. "Less than a decade later, many of these jobs had disappeared and there was stiff competition for those that remained. It would have been impossible to repeat my Nickel and Dimed “experiment,” had I had been so inclined, because I would probably never have found a job."

After more excellent original reporting, showing us how so many middle-class people are sliding into poverty, she sums up the policy implications.

"Today, the answer seems both more modest and more challenging: if we want to reduce poverty, we have to stop doing the things that make people poor and keep them that way. Stop underpaying people for the jobs they do. Stop treating working people as potential criminals and let them have the right to organize for better wages and working conditions.

"Stop the institutional harassment of those who turn to the government for help or find themselves destitute in the streets. Maybe, as so many Americans seem to believe today, we can’t afford the kinds of public programs that would genuinely alleviate poverty -- though I would argue otherwise. But at least we should decide, as a bare minimum principle, to stop kicking people when they’re down."

 

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