36 Nickel and Dimed Quotes With Page Numbers

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Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, is about an essay writer who goes undercover as a low-wage worker. Her goal was to find out how low-skilled workers survive on low wages. She found that not only do low-skilled workers get treated like children, their pay increases don’t keep up with inflation. She also argues that low-skilled workers’ wages are kept low by subtly lowering their self-esteem.

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Nickel and Dimed Quotes With Page Numbers

“My father had been a copper miner, uncles and grandfathers worked in the mines for the Union Pacific. So to me, sitting at a desk all day was not only a privilege but a duty: something I owed to all those people in my life, living and dead, who’d had so much more to say than anyone ever got to hear.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Introduction, Page 2

 

“My aim here was much more straightforward and objective — just to see whether I could match income to expenses, as the truly poor attempt to do every day. Besides, I’ve had enough unchosen encounters with poverty in my lifetime to know it’s not a place you would want to visit for touristic purposes; it just smells too much like fear.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Introduction, Page 6

 

“I wish I could say I rushed back and confronted George to get his side of the story. I wish I could say I stood up to Vic and insisted that George be given a translator and allowed to defend himself or announced that I’d find a lawyer who’d handle the case pro bono. At the very least I should have testified as to the kid’s honesty. The mystery to me is that there’s not much worth stealing in the dry-storage room, at least not in any fenceable quantity: “Is Gyorgi here, and am having 200- maybe 250-catsup packets. What do you say?” My guess is that he had taken- if he had taken anything at all-some Saltines or a can of cherry pie mix and that the motive for taking it was hunger.

So why didn’t I intervene? Certainly not because I was held back by the kind of moral paralysis that can mask as journalistic objectivity. On the contrary, something new-something loathsome and servile-had infected me, along with the kitchen odors that I could still sniff on my bra when I finally undressed at night. In real life I am moderately brave, but plenty of brave people shed their courage in POW camps, and maybe something similar goes on in the infinitely more congenial milieu of the low-wage American workplace. Maybe, in a month or two more at Jerry’s, I might have regained my crusading spirit. Then again, in a month or two I might have turned into a different person altogether – say, the kind of person who would have turned George in.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Introduction, Page 8

Nickel and Dimed Quotes With Page Numbers Chapter 1

“Mostly, in the restaurant business, [managers] are former cooks still capable of pinch-hitting in the kitchen, just as in hotels they are likely to be former clerks, and paid a salary of only about $400 a week. But everyone knows they have crossed over to the other side, which is, crudely put, corporate as opposed to human. Cooks want to prepare tasty meals, servers want to serve them graciously, but managers are there for only one reason–to make sure that money is made for some theoretical entity, the corporation, which exists far away in Chicago or New York, if a corporation can be said to have a physical existence at all.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Chapter 1, Page 22

 

“There are no secret economies that nourish the poor; on the contrary, there are a host of special costs. If you can’t put up the two months’ rent you need to secure an apartment, you end up paying through the nose for a room by the week. If you have only a room, with a hot plate at best, you can’t save by cooking up huge lentil stews that can be frozen for the week ahead. You eat fast food or the hot dogs and Styrofoam cups of soup that can be microwaved in a convenience store.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Chapter 1, Page 27

 

“Almost everyone smokes as if their pulmonary well-being depended on it — the multinational mélange of gooks; the dishwashers, who are all Czechs here; the servers, who are American natives — creating an atmosphere in which oxygen is only an occasional pollutant. My first morning at Jerry’s, when the hypoglycemic shakes set in, I complain to one of my fellow servers that I don’t understand how she can go so long without food. ‘Well, I don’t understand how you can go so long without a cigarette,’ she responds in a tone of reproach. Because work is what you do for other; smoking is what you do for yourself. I don’t know why the atismoking crusaders have never grasped the element of defiant self-nurturance that makes the habit so endearing to its victims — as if, in the American workplace, the only thing people have to call their own is the tumors they are nourishing and the spare moments they devote to feeding them.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Chapter 1, Page 30

 

“In Workers in a Lean World: Unions in the International Economy (Verso, 1997), Kim Moody cites studies finding an increase in stress-related workplace injuries and illness between the mid-1980s and the early 1990s. He argues that rising stress levels reflect a new system of “management by stress” in which workers in a variety of industries are being squeezed to extract maximum productivity, to the detriment of their health.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Chapter 1, Page 35

 

“Sometimes Carlie hands me the squirt bottle of “Bam” (an acronym for something that begins, ominously, with “butyric” – the rest of it has been worn off the label) and lets me do the bathrooms. No service ethic challenges me here to new heights of performance. I just concentrate on removing the pubic hairs from the bathtubs, or at least the dark ones that I can see.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Chapter 1, Page 42

Nickel and Dimed Quotes With Page Numbers Chapter 2

“It’s humbling, this business of applying for low-wage jobs, consisting as it does of offering yourself–your energy, your smile, your real or faked lifetime of experience–to a series of people for whom this is just not a very interesting package.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Chapter 2, Page 57

 

“What these [personality] tests tell employers about potential employees is hard to imagine since the ‘right’ answer should be obvious to anyone who has ever encountered the principle of hierarchy and subordination. Do I work well with others? You bet, but never to the point where I would hesitate to inform on them for the slightest infraction. Am I capable of independent decision making? Oh yes, but I know better than to let this capacity interfere with a slavish obedience to orders . . . The real function of these tests, I decide, is to convey information not to the employer but to the potential employee, and the information being conveyed is always: You will have no secrets from us. We don’t just want your muscles and that portion of your brain that is directly connected to them; we want your innermost self.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Chapter 2, Page 59

 

“But Jesus makes his appearance here only as a corpse; the living man, the wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist, is never once mentioned, nor anything he ever had to say. Christ crucified rules, and it may be that the true business of modern Christianity is to crucify him again and again so that he can never get a word out of his mouth.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Chapter 2, Page 68, 69

 

“I dust a whole shelf of books on pregnancy, breastfeeding, the first six months, the first year, the first two years — and I wonder what the child care-deprived Maddy makes of all this. Maybe there’s been some secret division of the world’s women into breeders and drones, and those at the maid level are no longer supposed to be reproducing at all. Maybe this is why our office manager, Tammy, who was once a maid herself, wears inch-long fake nails and tarty little outfits — to show she’s advanced to the breeder caste and can’t be sent out to clean anymore.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Chapter 2, Page 82

 

“Everyone in yuppie-land — airports, for example — looks like a nursing baby these days, inseparable from their plastic bottles of water. Here, however, I sweat without replacement or pause, not in individual drops but in continuous sheets of fluid soaking through my polo shirt, pouring down the backs of my legs … Working my way through the living room(s), I wonder if Mrs. W. will ever have occasion to realize that every single doodad and objet through which she expresses her unique, individual self is, from another vantage point, only an obstacle between some thirsty person and a glass of water.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Chapter 2, Page 83

 

“If you hump away at menial jobs 360-plus days a year, does some kind of repetitive injury of the spirit set in?

I don’t know and I don’t intend to find out, but I can guess that one of the symptoms is a bad case of tunnel vision. Work fills the landscape; coworkers swell to the size of family members or serious foes. Slights loom large, and a reprimand can reverberate into the night.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Chapter 2, Page 106

 

“…Maybe it’s low-wage work in general that has the effect of making feel like a pariah. When I watch TV over my dinner at night, I see a world in which almost everyone makes $15 an hour or more, and I’m not just thinking of the anchor folks. The sitcoms and dramas are about fashion designers or schoolteachers or lawyers, so it’s easy for a fast-food worker or nurse’s aide to conclude that she is an anomaly — the only one, or almost the only one, who hasn’t been invited to the party. And in a sense she would be right: the poor have disappeared from the culture at large, from its political rhetoric and intellectual endeavors as well as from its daily entertainment. Even religion seems to have little to say about the plight of the poor, if that tent revival was a fair sample. The moneylenders have finally gotten Jesus out of the temple.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Chapter 2, Page 117

Nickel and Dimed Quotes With Page Numbers Chapter 3

“Once I stand and watch helplessly while some rug rat pulls everything he can reach off the racks, and the thought that abortion is wasted on the unborn must show on my face, because his mother finally tells him to stop.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Chapter 3, Page 165

 

“What I have to face is that ‘Barb,’ the name on my ID tag, is not exactly the same person as Barbara. ‘Barb’ is what I was called as a child, and still am by my siblings, and I sense that at some level I’m regressing. Take away the career and the higher education, and maybe what you’re left with is this original Barb, the one who might have ended up working at Wal-Mart for real if her father hadn’t managed to climb out of the mines. So it’s interesting, and more than a little disturbing, to see how Barb turned out — that she’s meaner and slyer than I am, more cherishing of grudges, and not quite as smart as I’d hoped.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Chapter 3, Page 169

 

“But apparently you don’t need dot-com wealth to ruin an area for its low-income residents. The Pioneer Press quotes Secretary of HUD Andrew Cuomo ruing the “cruel irony” that prosperity is shrinking the stock of affordable housing nationwide: “The stronger the economy, the stronger the upward pressure on rents.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Chapter 3, Page 172

 

“According to Wal-Mart expert Bob Ortega, Sam Walton got the idea for the cheer on a 1975 trip to Japan, “where he was deeply impressed by factory workers doing group calisthenics and company cheers.” Ortega describes Walton conducting a cheer: “‘Gimme a W!’ he’d shout. ‘W!’ the workers would shout back, and on through the Wal-Mart name. At the hyphen, Walton would shout ‘Gimme a squiggly!’ and squat and twist his hips at the same time; the workers would squiggle right back”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Chapter 3, Page 178

 

“Someone has to puncture the prevailing fiction that we’re a “family” here, we “associates” and our “servant leaders,” held together solely by our commitment to the “guests.” After all, you’d need a lot stronger word than dysfunctional to describe a family where a few people get to eat at the table while the rest—the “associates” and all the dark-skinned seamstresses and factory workers worldwide who make the things we sell—lick up the drippings from the floor: psychotic would be closer to the mark.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Chapter 3, Page 185

 

“What you don’t necessarily realize when you start selling your time by the hour is that what you’re really selling is your life.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Chapter 3, Page 187

Nickel and Dimed Quotes With Page Numbers Evaluation

“A lot of what we experience as strength comes from knowing what to do with weakness.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Evaluation, Page 195

 

“…I displayed, or usually displayed, all those traits deemed essential to job readiness: punctuality, cleanliness, cheerfulness, obedience. These are the qualities that welfare-to-work job-training programs often seek to inculcate, though I suspect that most welfare recipients already possess them, or would if their child care and transportation problems were solved.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Evaluation, Page 196

 

“Something is wrong, very wrong, when a single person in good health, a person who in addition possesses a working car, can barely support herself by the sweat of her brow. You don’t need a degree in economics to see that wages are too low and rents too high.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Evaluation, Page 199

 

“Some economists argue that the apparent paradox rests on an illusion: there is no real ‘labor shortage,’ only a shortage of people willing to work at the wages currently being offered. You might as well talk about a ‘Lexus shortage’ — which there is, in a sense, for anyone unwilling to pay $40,000 for a car.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Evaluation, Page 202

 

“As Louis Uchitelle has reported in the New York Times, many employers will offer almost anything—free meals, subsidized transportation, store discounts—rather than raise wages. The reason for this, in the words of one employer, is that such extras “can be shed more easily” than wage increases when changes in the market seem to make them unnecessary. In the same spirit, automobile manufacturers would rather offer their customers cash rebates than reduced prices; the advantage of the rebate is that it seems like a gift and can be withdrawn without explanation.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Evaluation, Page 204

 

“To draw for a moment from an entirely different corner of my life, that part of me still attached to the biological sciences, there is ample evidence that animals — rats and monkeys, for example— that are forced into a subordinate status within their social systems adapt their brain chemistry accordingly, becoming ‘depressed’ in humanlike ways. Their behavior is anxious and withdrawn; the level of serotonin (the neurotransmitter boosted by some antidepressants) declines in their brains. And — what is especially relevant here — they avoid fighting even in self-defense … My guess is that the indignities imposed on so many low-wage workers — the drug tests, the constant surveillance, being ‘reamed out’ by managers — are part of what keeps wages low. If you’re made to feel unworthy enough, you may come to think that what you’re paid is what you are actually worth.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Evaluation, Pages 210, 211

 

“My guess is that the indignities imposed on so many low-wage workers—the drug tests, the constant surveillance, being “reamed out” by managers—are part of what keeps wages low. If you’re made to feel unworthy enough, you may come to think that what you’re paid is what you are actually worth. It is hard to imagine any other function for workplace authoritarianism. Managers may truly believe that, without their unremitting efforts, all work would quickly grind to a halt. That is not my impression. While I encountered some cynics and plenty of people who had learned to budget their energy, I never met an actual slacker or, for that matter, a drug addict or thief. On the contrary, I was amazed and sometimes saddened by the pride people took in jobs that rewarded them so meagerly, either in wages or in recognition. Often, in fact, these people experienced management as an obstacle to getting the job done as it should be done.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Evaluation, Page 211

 

“There seems to be a vicious cycle at work here, making ours not just an economy but a culture of extreme inequality. Corporate decision makers, and even some two-bit entrepreneurs like my boss at The Maids, occupy an economic position miles above that of the underpaid people whose labor they depend on. For reasons that have more to do with class — and often racial — prejudice than with actual experience, they tend to fear and distrust the category of people from which they recruit their workers. Hence the perceived need for repressive management and intrusive measures like drug and personality testing. But these things cost money — $20,000 or more a year for a manager, $100 a pop for a drug test, and so on — and the high cost of repression results in ever more pressure to hold wages down. The larger society seems to be caught up in a similar cycle: cutting public services for the poor, which are sometimes referred to collectively as the ‘social wage,’ while investing ever more heavily in prisons and cops. And in the larger society, too, the cost of repression becomes another factor weighing against the expansion or restoration of needed services. It is a tragic cycle, condemning us to ever deeper inequality, and in the long run, almost no one benefits but the agents of repression themselves.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Evaluation, Page 212

 

“You might discover that, nationwide, America’s food banks are experiencing ‘a torrent of need which [they] cannot meet’ and that, according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 67 percent of the adults requesting emergency food aid are people with jobs.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Evaluation, Page 219

 

“We can hardly pride ourselves on being the world’s preeminent democracy, after all, if the large numbers of citizens spend half their waking hours in what amounts, in plain terms, to a dictatorship.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Evaluation, Page 220

 

“According to a recent poll […] 94% of Americans agree that “people who work fulltime should be able to earn enough to keep their families out of poverty.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Evaluation, Page 220

 

“I grew up hearing over and over, to the point of tedium, that “hard work” was the secret of success: “Work hard and you’ll get ahead” or “It’s hard work that got us where we are.” No one ever said that you could work hard – harder even than you ever thought possible – and still find yourself sinking ever deeper into poverty and debt.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Evaluation, Page 220

 

“When someone works for less pay than she can live on — when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently — than she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made of a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Evaluation, Page 221

 

“When someone works for less pay than she can live on — when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently — then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The ‘working poor,’ as they are approvingly termed, 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 else.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Evaluation, Page 221

 

“The “working poor,” as they are approvingly termed, 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 else. As Gail, one of my restaurant coworkers put it, “you give and you give.”

~Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Evaluation, Page 221

 

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