Scraping By

erik toren cuauhtemocrey at
Wed May 9 12:00:45 MDT 2001

Hola Camaradas:

A very interesting article from Barbara Ehrenreich
that appeared today at  Give it a read

Por El Socialismo,
Erik Toren
Pharr, TX


Scraping by
Barbara Ehrenreich spent two years as a waitress, maid
and Wal-Mart clerk, trying to find out how America's
working poor make it. Her answer: A lot of them don't.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Laura Miller

May 9, 2001 | Of all the unlikely things people
achieve today, from mapping the human genome to
surviving bizarre wilderness ordeals in the Australian
outback for the amusement of a national television
audience, none seems quite as remarkable as supporting
a family of four on $17,230 per year. Yet, as hard as
that heroic task might be to pull off -- and anyone
who's done it deserves accolades for adding a whole
new meaning to the term "home economics" -- it
wouldn't win you much sympathy from the federal
government. At $17,230 in annual family income, you'd
still be one dollar over the official poverty line.

Some of the officials who expect families to survive
on such an income couldn't even cover their annual
travel budget with $17,229. (In fact, a show about
them trying to make it, even on $20,000 a year, would
be about the only reality TV program I'd watch.) Since
some people do manage it (11.9 percent, according to
the most recent U.S. Census Bureau figures),
presumably it can be done, but Barbara Ehrenreich is
one of the few social critics and commentators to
actually attempt the feat herself. On the urging of
Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's magazine (where some
of the material in "Nickel and Dimed" first appeared),
she agreed to try to figure out, firsthand, how anyone
lives "on the wages available to the unskilled." Two
years, six jobs and three cities later, she had the
material she needed to write "Nickel and Dimed."

An observant, opinionated and always lively essayist
-- she was Time magazine's house lefty for several
years -- Ehrenreich has written about everything from
the history of war to men's fears of romantic
commitment, always from a left-wing perspective. This,
though, is her most immediate book, both because it
largely eschews punditry for direct experience and
because her experiment prompted Ehrenreich to reflect
on her own working-class roots. Daughter of a man who
"managed to pull himself, and us with him, up from the
mile-deep copper mines of Butte to the leafy suburbs
of the Northeast," formerly married to a one-time
warehouse worker turned Teamster organizer, Ehrenreich
sometimes felt during her weeks as a "wage slave" the
presence of an alternate self, as when she harbored
evil thoughts about her co-workers during a stint at


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