Getting Nickel'd and Dime'd

State Standards

  • 2.5 Analyze an author’s implicit and explicit philosophical assumptions and beliefs about a subject.
  • 3.0 Students read and respond to historically or culturally significant works of literature that reflect and enhance their studies of history and social science. They conduct in-depth analyses of recurrent themes.
  • 3.5.c Analyze recognized works of American literature representing a variety of genres and traditions: Evaluate the philosophical, political, religious, ethical, and social influences of the historical period that shaped the characters, plots, and settings.
  • 3.8 Analyze the clarity and consistency of political assumptions in a selection of literary works or essays on a topic (e.g., suffrage, women’s role in organized labor). (Political approach)

Project Summary

This essay was a Christmas Break assignment specifically for Advanced Placement students. We were tasked to read Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. After reading it, we composed a normal essay that compared Ehrenreich’s experiences to those of immigrants in the early 20th century. The purpose of the essay was for us to declare and support our opinion on the differences between minimum wage life in the 21st century versus in the 20th century. At the end of the day, there was no comparison in deciding which was worse off.


Writing this essay and reading Ehrenreich’s work was an amazing insight into the hardships faced by low and minimum wage workers even to this day. There are still people living in poverty in America who have barely enough food to feed themselves, much less their dependents. Graft is still evident throughout the economic system, though today it rarely sees the light of day. If I had a chance to redo this essay, I would find additional reading material to add to my synthesis of my opinion.

I was amazed at the sheer amount of work it took for someone living on minimum wage to make it in even such low-expense places as Maine. It was quite the shock to see that she had to work two jobs just to make rent and have a roof to sleep under. The situation in Florida was even worse in my opinion, working two, and then three near full time jobs just to have a roof to sleep under and meals not worth mentioning was a surprise. It goes to show how hard it will probably be when I hit college. Working to save up and pay for loans and normal expenses (hopefully not, I’d much rather get a few good scholarships) and at the same trying to keep up with schoolwork will indeed be quite the test.

The Essay