Banned Books Awareness: “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America”


\"\"Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America is one of the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2010- coming in at number 8- according to the American Library Association.

The events portrayed in the non-fiction work take place between 1998 and 2000 and investigates the impact of the 1996 welfare reform act on the \”working poor.\”

Ehrenreich addresses the “too lazy to work” and “a job will defeat poverty” ideals held by conservatives; and showcases many of the difficulties faced by those who work jobs with realistically low wages, including the “hidden costs” involved in life necessities like shelter (the poor often have to spend much more on daily hotel costs than they would pay to rent an apartment if they could afford the security deposit and first-and-last month fees), and food (the poor have to buy food that is both more expensive and less healthy than they would if they had access to refrigeration and appliances needed to cook).

This last point became all the more noticeable to me, personally, as this week I moved to a low-income neighborhood 2 miles north of the Detroit border. A short stroll through the immediate area is marked by numerous party/liquor stores, and the lack of quality restaurants, which are replaced by a few ‘greasy spoon’ diners and hole-in-the-wall bars. Any sociologist or anthropologist will confirm that as the median income declines, the number of unhealthy food sources and liquor stores increases.

Primarily, Ehrenreich attacks the notion that low-wage jobs, such as waitressing, require “unskilled” labor. She found that the work required incredible feats of stamina, focus, memory, quick thinking, and fast learning; also, constant and repeated movement creates a risk of repetitive stress injury and that pain must often be worked through to hold a position known for constant turnover.  The days are often filled with degrading and uninteresting tasks; and the mental stress of dealing those in management roles who served mainly to interfere with worker productivity, forcing employees to undertake pointless tasks, and who make the entire low-wage work experience even more miserable.

She condemns job interview “personality” tests and questionnaires designed to weed out “unsuitable” potential employees; and “help needed” signs that don’t automatically indicate a job opening, their purpose more so are to sustain a pool of applicants in fields that have notoriously rapid turnover rates. She also argues that one low-wage job is not enough to support one person, let alone a family. Many of the workers encountered in the book survive by living with relatives or others in the same position, and sometimes even in their vehicles.

She concludes that all low-wage workers and those who receive government or charitable, are not living off the generosity of others, but rather that “we” live off their generosity.

“When someone works for less pay than she can live on, she has made a great sacrifice for you. The “working poor” are, in fact, the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone.” (Page 221)


So what is so dangerous in this work that has the book burners in a tizzy? Common reasons include drugs, offensive language, pushing political/religious viewpoints, and inaccuracies.

North Carolina state Republican lawmakers called for a ban in 2003, when it was assigned as required summer reading for incoming students at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The lawmakers went on record in support of the ban by citing a “pattern” of the university being anti-Christian. In response to the controversy, the author had this to say:

“… After all, the most offensive statement is my description of Jesus as a “wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist.” On the vagrancy and socialism there can be no question; Jesus was an itinerant preacher who demanded an immediate redistribution of wealth to the poor. As for the “wine guzzling,” I draw on many respected academic sources to illustrate a parallel between Jesus and the Greek deity Dionysus, god of wine and ecstasy. Both offered eternal life to their followers, renounced material possessions, avoided romantic entanglements, and had a special affinity for women and the poor.”

The Topeka and Shawnee County (Kansas) Public Library restricted minor’s access in 2010 when a political lobby group, Kansans for Common Sense, decried that the material is “harmful to minors under state law.” The board voted 6-3 in favor of keeping the books exactly where they were in the Health Information section.

It was challenged in the Easton, Pennsylvania, School District in 2011 when a parent claimed that the book promotes “economic fallacies and socialist ideas,” as well as promoting the use of drugs, and belittling Christians. It was retained despite the objection.

Also in 2011, it was removed from the Bedford, New Hampshire School District’s required Personal Finance course after two parents complained about the book’s profanity, offensive references to Christianity, and “biased portrayal of capitalism.”

It never ceases to amaze me how some groups feel they have every right to demonize and vilify the truth because it brings attention to the inequalities and unethical practices inherent to big business. There is a reason America has had “In God We Trust” imprinted on it’s currency since the 1950’s, and it has nothing to do with religion- the almighty Dollar is the god of Wall Street.



For a complete list of titles covered and more information about the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project, please visit

Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, American Library Association, Marshall University, LA Review
© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions