New York Times columnist, feminist and award-winning author Barbara Ehrenreich gave an informative and entertaining lecture Monday at Campbell Hall about her 4-year-old best-selling book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and how the issue of the working poor is still prominent in today’s society.
Nickel and Dimed is both an account of the working poor in America and a test of whether or not its author would be able to sustain a minimum-wage living. She took the cheapest living accommodations offered and worked as a waitress, hotel maid, housekeeper, nursing home aide and a Wal-Mart “associate” — a term she takes lightly for various reasons. The jobs were described as physically and mentally challenging. She worked alongside homeless people who didn’t think they were homeless because they slept in their car. She stayed in single rooms in residential motels that would usually have whole families occupying them. She worked seven-day workweeks, two jobs at a time, and still couldn’t afford rent at some places.
Ehrenreich’s lecture dealt with controversial issues but was humorous and informative at the same time, taking on everything from poverty — “If Bush took an interest in poverty, what would he do? Bomb it?” — to religion: “North Carolina didn’t like the book; they called it ‘intellectual pornography.'” For the most part, the humor took a roller-coaster ride, starting out with funny examples of the five jobs she held, to attacks on welfare reform and President Bush. However, less than half of the middle- and upper-class audience was laughing when she talked about issues such as tax cuts for the rich and how she would like to take on an assignment that deals with America’s wealthy.
Ehrenreich is a skilled lecturer and has the ability to move an audience. After she finished speaking, she received a well-deserved standing ovation. Her work — or, rather, hard work — shows her ability to write informative literature and expose the supposed “underlings” of America’s working class. She gave a good summary at the end of her lecture by saying, “This is about all of us. Low-wage workers are the country’s philanthropists.”