"I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time. Well, not this book, because I never imagined that the book I was waiting for would be so devastatingly smart and funny, so consistently entertaining and unflinchingly on target. In fact, I would like to have written it myself – if, that is, I had lived Linda Tirado’s life and extracted all the hard lessons she has learned. I am the author of Nickel and Dimed, which tells the story of my own brief attempt, as a semi-undercover journalist, to survive on low-wage retail and service jobs. Tirado is the real thing."
—from the foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed
We in America have certain ideas of what it means to be poor. Linda Tirado, in her signature brutally honest yet personable voice, takes all of these preconceived notions and smashes them to bits. She articulates not only what it is to be working poor in America (yes, you can be poor and live in a house and have a job, even two), but what poverty is truly like—on all levels.
Frankly and boldly, Tirado discusses openly how she went from lower-middle class, to sometimes middle class, to poor and everything in between, and in doing so reveals why “poor people don’t always behave the way middle-class America thinks they should.”
In the 1980s, somewhere in Austin, Helton was young, married, and jobless. After a few strung-out years trying to make it as a writer, he was caught in a cycle of drunken, coked-up nights, crashing on friends’ couches and looking for money in the morning. Succumbing to the daunting reality of what it means to support both himself and a troubled marriage, he became a housepainter. He sold pumpkins on the side of the road, delivered firewood, ran a crew of illegal immigrants hauling railroad ties across the empty plains of Kansas, and then he painted even more.
Despair is transformed into resilience as Helton insightfully narrates his wayward years, enduring hateful employers and mind-numbing manual labor. Along the way, the people toiling beneath the saccharine veneer of wealth that was the Reagan years are brought to vivid life: the ambitious and the lazy, the potheads and the racists, as well as Vietnam vets too shaken to hold a paintbrush and deadbeat fathers straining to pay child support.
With intoxicating, blasé-faire sentiment, Helton shows that everyone—from the beauties at the rodeo to the lowest laborers—is tethered by a common desire to just pay the bills and balm the loneliness. A raw and moving account, Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions captures a microcosm of left-behind America that straddles a dangerous line between ruin and redemption.
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.