Barbara Ehrenreich, on the proposal of Lewis Lapham, decides to investigate the effectiveness of 1996 welfare reforms, by going on low-wage jobs herself. She wants to be part of one of those millions of people who work on low wages and experience for herself what it likes to be one, the difficulties and problems faced by these people and find on her own whether the reforms of 1996 are helping them or not. She wants to enlighten people of lives of millions, especially four million women, working in the labor market.She starts her investigation by working at two restaurants, "Jerry's" and " Hearthside's" in Key West Florida..This is spring of 1998. She has left beind everything except her car and $1000. During this time, she also works as one-day housekeeping lady . Finding these jobs wasn't difficult as she was a white and woman and Key West is a tourist's city, so jobs for waitresses are abundant. At the restaurants she works for two weeks. After this, she leaves for Portland, Maine. She starts her job search again at Portland and secure for herself two more jobs, one at a nursing home and another a cleaning store. As a maid she was paid $ 6.65 and as a nurse, she had the perks of two free meals a days. She approximately works for a month here. Her final destination was Minneapolis, Minnesota where she work as an "assistant" at Wal-Mart. At all the three locations, finding low-wage jobs wasn't difficult but finding reasonable accomodation was impossible. She ended her investigation in 2000.(" Nickel and Dimed")
At end of investigation, Ehrenreich learns that with everything favorable with her-being a native English speaking woman, cash of $1000, an automobile, respectable education and no dependents-she has been unable to make ends meet.
In this book, Ehrenreich not only finds endless loopholes in the welfare reforms but also the ignorance and lack of understanding extended by the middle and upper classes towards the lower ones.
She reveals that the middle class often believes that these low-pay jobs requires little or no skill and argues that their skillfulness is the cause of their better conditions. However, she finds out that these jobs require more skill and more toughness of character and mind than the higher-paid jobs. She finds out that these jobs are highly demanding and requires a lot of stamina, alacrity of mind and ability to learn things quickly. She sympathies with people working for these jobs, as they demand extreme physcial toughness too.Otherwise, the repetitive tasks not only lead to boredom and demoralisation, but also stress related injuries.
She divulges the degrading aspects of these jobs, that add to the frustrations of these people. Firstly, the managers are too rude, insensitive and indifferent to their employees. They are treated as machines that can work incessantly and failure to do so leads to insults or redundancy. The "help needed" boards at these restaurants, hotels and supermarkets add to the employees' insecurities. They know that they can be replaced very easily, if the fail or refuse to do any task. In the view of employers, these people are extras that "can be shedded more easily".
Furthermore, that the end of tiring, stressful and demanding month, the pay received by these people are insufficient to support them or their families with housing costs skyrocketing.
Housing is the major problem for these people.While wages have remained unchanged even during nineties, the period that saw the highest US economic prosperity, the cost of housing has reached its peak. The wages have not be able to keep up with soaring housing costs and as a result millions are either homeless or frequently changing to more cheaper houses with unacceptable living conditions.Moreover, the renting of apartments requires security deposits which includes the first and last month's rent, which the low wage workers are unable to pay, forcing them to find accomodation in cars or motels. However, though motels don't