Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job -- any job -- can be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered. Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. She lived in trailer parks and crumbling residential motels. Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly "unskilled," that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you int to live indoors.
Nickel and Dimed reveals low-rent America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity -- a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate stratagems for survival. Read it for the smoldering clarity of Ehrenreich's perspective and for a rare view of how "prosperity" looks from the bottom. You will never see anything -- from a motel bathroom to a restaurant meal -- in quite the same way again.
"I recommend a book by Professor Williams, it is really worth a read, it's called White Working Class." -- Vice President Joe Biden on Pod Save America
An Amazon Best Business and Leadership book of 2017
Around the world, populist movements are gaining traction among the white working class. Meanwhile, members of the professional elite—journalists, managers, and establishment politicians--are on the outside looking in, left to argue over the reasons. In White Working Class, Joan C. Williams, described as having "something approaching rock star status" by the New York Times, explains why so much of the elite's analysis of the white working class is misguided, rooted in class cluelessness.
Williams explains that many people have conflated "working class" with "poor"--but the working class is, in fact, the elusive, purportedly disappearing middle class. They often resent the poor and the professionals alike. But they don't resent the truly rich, nor are they particularly bothered by income inequality. Their dream is not to join the upper middle class, with its different culture, but to stay true to their own values in their own communities--just with more money. While white working-class motivations are often dismissed as racist or xenophobic, Williams shows that they have their own class consciousness.
White Working Class is a blunt, bracing narrative that sketches a nuanced portrait of millions of people who have proven to be a potent political force. For anyone stunned by the rise of populist, nationalist movements, wondering why so many would seemingly vote against their own economic interests, or simply feeling like a stranger in their own country, White Working Class will be a convincing primer on how to connect with a crucial set of workers--and voters.
Whether these essays (originally published as syndicated newspaper columns) are individually about financial bailouts, illegal immigrants, gay marriage, national security, or the Duke University rape case, the underlying concern is about what these very different kinds of things say about the general direction of American society.
This larger and longer-lasting question is whether the particular issues discussed reflect a degeneration or dismantling of the America that we once knew and expected to pass on to our children and grandchildren. There are people determined that this country's values, history, laws, traditions and role in the world are fundamentally wrong and must be changed. Such people will not stop dismantling America unless they get stopped—and the next election may be the last time to stop them, before they take the country beyond the point of no return.
Now completely revised in paperback, The Housing Boom and Bust is designed to unravel the tangled threads of that story. It also attempts to determine whether what is being done to deal with the problem is more likely to make things better or worse.
With pragmatic recommendations on what government, business and labor should do to alleviate the economic crunch, The Big Squeeze is a balanced, consistently revealing look at a major American crisis.
Originally published in 1972.
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