Barbara Ehrenreich on Special Costs

barbara ehrenreichBarbara Ehrenreich is a well-known investigative reporter and social commentator. She has been called a myth buster and a muckraker for her unflagging devotion to uncovering the silent and contradictory spaces in our national persona. A chemist with a doctorate in cellular immunology, Ehrenreich has chosen to focus her life’s work on changing the national discourse on issues relating to poverty, health, equality, women, and war. The recipient of numerous awards including a Guggenheim fellowship, a Ford Foundation award, and the Freedom from Want Medal, she was the founder and co-director of United States Women’s National Health Initiative and of Unite Professionals, an organization for white collar workers employed and unemployed.

The following excerpt is taken from her 2001 bestseller Nicked and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America. p. 27-28. To write this book she went undercover and worked as a waitress, hotel housekeeper, Wal-Mart employee and maid and tried to live on the money she earned.

There are no secret economies that nourish the poor; on the contrary, there are a host of special costs. If you can’t put up the  two months’ rent needed to secure an apartment, you end up paying through the nose for a room by the week. If you have only a room, with a hot plate at best, you can’t save by cooking up huge lentil stews that can be frozen a week ahead. You eat fast food or hot dogs and Styrofoam cups of soup that can microwaved at a local convenience store. If you have no money for health insurance–and the Heathsides’s niggardly plan kicks in only after three months–you go without routine care or prescription drugs and end up paying the price…Marianne’s boyfriend lost his job as a roofer because he missed so much time after getting a cut on his foot for which he couldn’t afford the prescribed antibiotic.

Learn more about her views on her blog

Have you ever thought of going undercover to investigate a social issue or discover a lifeway to write about?

9 Replies to “Barbara Ehrenreich on Special Costs”

  1. I read Nickel and Dimed and I thought it was EXCELLENT. You provided a inside look into the actually struggles of the working poor.

    1. It surprises me that more authors are not doing undercover reporting of all kinds of life ways in our society. It seems to me that cultural clash that happens when you enter a different lifestyle would be a great source of inspiration and broaden ones writing. In my own experience I have done this by living with Greek shepherds.

      1. Your experience living with Greek shepherds sounds interesting. Have you written a post about the experience? If so, please share the link if you haven’t written one you might want to consider doing so. Me personally I would enjoy reading about your experience.

      2. I haven’t posted about it yet. I may actually need a different blog to do that as my 5 blogs all have a specific focus. I probably should have a more personal one. I’ll think about it. I am working on a Greek cookbook now that I hope to self-publish. It’s not a typical one. It is about village cooking and how it ties into the round of seasons and agricultural practices. It’s written and illustrated. I just have to figure out the self-publishing route.

  2. I consider Nickel and Dimed to be one of the most concrete and powerful explorations of the costs of poverty in this country. Definitely a wake up. Have you read her book on collective joy: Dancing in the Streets? I’ve got it, but haven’t read it yet. Excited to…

    1. With the way the economy is I think we should reread Nickled and Dimed and think how much hasn’t changed in 12 years. I haven’t read collective joy but definitely will add it to my to read list.

  3. I actually met her once! A wonderful person with a refreshingly unsentimental and uncompromising outlook on life. And a superb sense of moral justice.

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