RCC Honors History Project

Nickel and Dimed v. Scratch Beginnings

Posted by chad612 on May 4, 2009

A more recent book on the state of labor in America is Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 best seller Nickel and Dimed, where the author investigates the possibility of “(Not) Getting By in America” by moving to three regions of the U.S. with minimal starting funds, getting entry-level jobs, and trying to set up a household. She is a waitress in Florida, a house cleaner in Maine and a Wal-Mart employee in Minnesota (Minnesota, glorious land of 10,000 lakes!) . [Strangely, a stage play was produced of this non-fiction book. Alas, not a musical like Working]. She shows how unlikely it is to be successful in this endeavor, even with no dependents and some money to start out with.

Of course, a very successful book that raises sympathy for the working poor requires a conservative response (see also: Michael Moore Hates America. I assume.), and in 2008, Adam Shepard published Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream attempts to refute Ehrenreich by starting out with less ($25), living in a shelter, denying his education and contacts, and having an apartment, car and $5000 in savings in 10 months.

Does Shepard actually invalidate Ehrenreich’s project by proving that one young white male, educated even if he is denying it, can pull himself up by his bootstraps? Does this prove that opportunity is there for EVERYONE who works for it? Was Ehrenreich ever arguing that NO ONE could be successful, or was she just showing the difficulties that MANY people would have getting ahead?

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One Response to “Nickel and Dimed v. Scratch Beginnings”

  1. nrohr said

    This is something I have been thinking lately, especially in relation to Booker T. Washington who pulled himself “up from slavery” and expected all black people to do the same. Those rags-to-riches stories are always nice, but I think the fact that they are so celebrated demonstrates that they are rare and unexpected. People certainly can improve their lives and overcome obstacles, but it isn’t as if everyone can and those still left at the bottom are lazy.

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