The book Nickel and Dimed is written by a journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, who wanted to see if she could live off of minimum wage jobs. She started the research project because of the welfare reform legislation. When she was speaking to her boss about the issue she was not aware that he would tell her that she was going to be doing the research for the article.
She decided that she would choose three places in the United States and see if she could make it through a month and have money to pay another month’s rent. If she got to the end of the month and had to dip into her own money then she would stop the research in that area and move on to one of the other places. For her to do this experiment she had good circumstances, she was healthy, had no children and it wasn’t permanent for her.
She worked in Key West, Portland, Maine, and Minneapolis. She began the experiment in Key West, Florida. She found a cheap place on the outskirts of town that was 45 minutes by highway to the city. When she started she wanted to get a job a house keeper. She waitressed in her teens and young adulthood and she didn’t want to work in a profession that was tiring like that. However she was told by hotel she applied at to look at the adjoined restaurant for a job and was hired.
She befriended a couple of the women that worked there, and learned about the issues that they had to put up with, especially in housing and finding shelter. One of the women was living out of her truck, because she couldn’t afford a place to stay. She had to find a second job because the restaurant wasn’t getting as many customers after the tourist season ended. She found work in another restaurant, Jerry’s.
Eventually she quit working at the first restaurant because Jerry’s paid better. She found out that she couldn’t get by on just one job, so she got another job cleaning rooms at a hotel. However, the same day that she started her housekeeping job she had a bad night at Jerry’s between having full house, so the cook is overwhelmed and so was she and then her manager pulled her to the side and yelled at her so she ended up walking out, quitting both jobs and starting again in Maine.
In Maine she finds a motel to rent until she can find a new place. She tries for things near the city, but rent is $1000 plus a month, and her budget is $500, at best. She heads for the cheaper places that are all south of where the jobs are. Eventually she finds a place that is $120 and month, and then she starts to place interviews at nursing homes and cleaning services.
She takes the first two places that call her back and they are a nursing home, helping in the dining room on weekends and a cleaning service that is Monday through Friday. On her first day of working in the nursing home she finds that most of the work is cleaning up, washing dishes, sweeping, vacuuming, and getting ready for the next meal.
The following Monday when she starts with the cleaning service is spent watching a video on how to clean a house the correct way and then the next day she gets to go out and experience it real time. Once the team gets to the house they each get a room and if they finish early they are expected to report to the leader to get a new job.
Because they are only allowed a certain amount of time in each house. As she gets closer to the employees she learns that a lot of them live in their family houses or they share a home with other people. Most of the girls working don’t even bring a lunch, they just bring something he snack on. Eventually she develops a skin disease, that she thinks is poison ivy, and she has to call her dermatologist from Florida to help cure it.
One day on a job her team leader gets sick and admits that she is pregnant. At the end of her experiment in Maine she tells the girls that she is working with what she was doing. At first they thought she was joking but one girl finally understood and thought it was really funny that she was “investigating” others’ lives and that when she was cleaning houses she was inspired to try and be like the owners one day.
The last place she went to was Minnesota. She isn’t sure why she picked Minneapolis, because when she did an internet search, the jobs paid about $8 an hour and there rent in places was as low as $400. She stays in a friend’s house during this experiment and has to take care of their pet bird. She applies to jobs like Walmart and Target, but because of her smoking Marijuana in the previous weeks she was not given the job.
After searching for jobs and all of them asking for a drug test, she decided to go on a detox to get the remaining marijuana out of her system. She met a woman who was the real life personification of her experiment. Caroline, moved from New York to Florida with clothes and $1,600 in cash. Caroline had her children with her and found work, she lived with a woman she met, until that woman left to live with a man.
Eventually Caroline found her husband in Florida and they made their way to Minneapolis. She hunts for an apartment and takes one that is $295 a week. She gets a call and is told to show up to Menards for orientation and learns that she is working in plumbing. She starts that Friday making $10 an hour.