Can someone really live and prosper in American receiving minimal income? Can someone create a good lifestyle for themselves on just six to seven dollars an hour? In Nickel and Dimed Barbara Ehrenreich goes undercover to find out if it is indeed possible.
Giving herself only $1,000 she leaves the lifestyle that she has come accustomed too and goes to join all the people living the low class way of life. Before setting out, she gave herself a list of rules she had to follow so that her experience would be as real as it could be. Her first rule was when looking for a job she couldn't mention the skills she had learned from her education. Second, she had to take the highest paying job that was being offered to her. Third, she had to live in the cheapest accommodation that she could, providing that it was a safe environment. Going hungry and being homeless weren't ever able to be options. She knows she will never truly experience poverty because this is nothing more than a project but she leaves behind her old life and becomes known as a divorced homemaker reentering the workforce after many years.
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Her main goal is to get enough income to be able to pay for all her expenses and have enough money to pay next months rent. In Chapter One she makes a start in Key West. In this chapter she learns a lot about low-wage-job applications. Each application she fills out has many multi choice questions and later on a urine test. She ends up waiting many days hearing nothing back and then applying for a job waitressing.
She's hired and is paid $2.43 and hour plus tips. As days go by she finds herself growing to dislike management noting how she is constantly up and about while those that supervise sit all day. She has to constantly be doing something or else she will be given even harder tasks to do. She must keep herself occupied without outdoing her co-workers. In the beginning of the chapter she had found an apartment that she thought she could afford, but she finds out that if someone can't afford a deposit for an apartment, they'll find themselves in a hotel. With the costs adding up after two weeks she comes to terms with the fact that she needs a second job.
Barbara gets another waitressing job which turns out a lot worse then her other one. It's a mess and she isn't able to have breaks but she's getting paid more. Soon she quits her first job because she is unable to work at both places. In the meantime she looks for a new place closer to work to save gas money. She finds herself living in a trailer park. After almost a month she gets another job as a housekeeper in a hotel which only lasts for one day.
Later that same day at the restaurant she trys to deal with everything but ends up walking out after her manager yells at her. That is an end to her time in Key West. In Chapter Two she moves on to Maine due to its “whiteness”. She thought it would be the perfect place for her to go without the hassle of questions.
She starts out staying in a hotel but quickly sees that she needs to find a better place to stay. She finds housing that's a lot cheaper than the almost $60 a night for a hotel room. The only way that she can afford her housing though, is to get two jobs. She applies for many jobs but doesn't receive any calls back finding that most places place want ads when they aren't in need of workers.
They build up a pile of applications so that after someone quits they can easily be replaced. Then she gets a full time job at a house cleaning service. When one of her co-workers hurts herself on the job and doesn't want to tell the boss, Ehrenreich sees that in most cases people can't afford or are too afraid to take time off. She also gets a job part.