Nickel and Dimed Again

Monday, August 08, 2011

Author Barbara Ehrenreich discusses the new afterword to her 2001 bestselling book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, and how it relates to today's bleak economic picture.


Barbara Ehrenreich

Comments [27]


By the way, if you took the $1.367 trillion dollars away from the billionaires to distribute to the 43.6 million people considered poor in the United States ( that would give each poor person a grand total of $31,353. How long do you think that will last each poor person? A year? From whom is the next $31,353 going to come from?

You want as many people as possible living what most people would be considered a fairly decent standard of living? Learn some basic economics to find out how an economy grows, how wealth is created, and how people's standards of living are raised. [HINT: Welfare distribution isn't in the answer, which I'm sure will be much to the dismay of Barbara Ehrenreich.]

Aug. 08 2011 05:29 PM

Here's an example of something that Ehrenreich said that shows that even from a simple arithmetical point of view, she has no idea what is going on in this country.

She talks about the importance of wealth distribution. (How forcibly taking money from someone to give to someone else is either moral, or even good for the self-reliance and self-esteem of the person given the "distribution" is beyond me. I would say that having a healthy economy where people don't have to wait for the condescending largesse of people like Ehrenreich to survive, but have money that has more purchasing power as time goes on, not less--like we've had in this country for the past 98 year--is better for all people.)

Whose wealth is Ehrenreich talking about distributing? Let's say in her infinite "generosity" (i.e.,she's generous with OTHER people's money) she declares that the U.S. Government should confiscate ALL the wealth from every U.S. Billionaire ( That would not only make those people poor (which would contradict her goal that people should NOT be poor), but would only bring in about $1.367 trillion dollars. The U.S. Federal Government is over $14 trillion dollars in debt. She hasn't even solved 10% of the money that the U.S. government OWES.From whom would Ehrenreich plan on getting the rest of the money from to "distribute" to poor people, considering that the billionaires who she has just had fleeced held the vast majority of the private wealth of this country? David and Emma?

Because most people don't understand even basic economics, nor even the concept of what a medium of exchange (i.e., money) is, they talk (and write) just to hear themselves talk. But their solutions will never solve the problems that we have in this country.

Aug. 08 2011 04:48 PM
Eugenia Renskoff from Brooklyn, NY

Hi, All I know is that I have been unemployed for about 3 years and that that my chances of getting employed in spite of every thing I know--writing, translating, teaching languages--is nil. And I am uninsured with no wayy to cover whatever medical bills I mayy have in the future.Eugenia Renskoff

Aug. 08 2011 04:16 PM

Emma, I can assure you that I am no fan of the economically-ignorant Paul Krugman. (And please don't write telling me how he won the Nobel Prize for "Economics.") Nor am I a fan of the economically-ignorant former Princeton "Economics" Professor Ben Bernanke.

This is not the forum to go into great length about all of the economic nonsense that Ehrenreich espouses. If you want to find out the same things that I found out (over twenty years ago), then may I suggest that you read the book that I posted earlier (Economics in One Lesson). Then you will see how we are ALL being screwed by the Bankers and their politicians in the government (Let's not forget that Goldman Sachs was "progressive" candidate Barack Obama's biggest financial contributor) and how the "solutions" that Ehrenreich proposes will only make the Bankers richer, and poor people even poorer.

Aug. 08 2011 03:57 PM

David - I'm not debating that economics is a social science. But you have not in any way supported your claim that Barbara E. is "clueless" about economics. Nor can you.

I'm assuming you think a person's economic proficiency can be best judged by the accuracy of their economic predictions? In that case, you are surely an admirer of Paul Krugman, who according to this study ( is the most accurate pundit in the U.S.

Aug. 08 2011 02:40 PM

Also Emma, you wrote:

"For that matter, for those of you who question her intelligence or knowledge, what books or influential articles have you published recently on economics? (Cutting or pasting something here from The National Review by someone else is not the same.)"

Do you really believe that just because someone gets a book published that means that it is true? And I have no idea what you mean by "cutting or pasting something here from The National Review." I do not read The National Review nor I am a right-wing economically-ignorant conservative.

Aug. 08 2011 02:33 PM

Emma, economics is a field of study like physics, law, music, etc. As a great economist once said:

"It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance."

"Opinions" are not facts. This woman is clueless about even basic economics. She sees real problems, but her solutions will only make things worse.

Aug. 08 2011 02:27 PM

Calling Barbara "ignorant" and suggesting that she return to school for a lesson in economics is a pretty sad debate tactic. It's always easiest to dismiss people with different points of view by calling them dumb, but it won't convince anyone you are right. Actually, it makes your arguments look weaker, and it makes you look uncivil.

Barbara Ehrenreich is brilliant. Nickel and Dimed was a huge contribution. Who else here is willing to go out and sacrifice your comfort and health to live the life she lived to understand what our working poor are up against? For that matter, for those of you who question her intelligence or knowledge, what books or influential articles have you published recently on economics? (Cutting or pasting something here from The National Review by someone else is not the same.)

I also value her older book "For Her Own Good" about the medical establishment's historical treatment of women's health. Required reading, and looks more and more prescient with today's prevalence of C-sections, forceps and other methods of obstetrics that serve doctors more than mothers.

Aug. 08 2011 02:11 PM

In my previous comment I wrote:

"Perhaps then the "caring" Ehrenreich will understand why things are getting progressively (no pun intended) in this country for not only poor people, but now for even the middle class."

I left out the word "worse" after "progressively (no pun intended)."

Aug. 08 2011 12:50 PM
jmurphy from Long Island

And while several of you engage in partisan bickering, much like they already do in DC, and some of you point out that people take advantage of the system, much like they already do in DC, we are managing to put aside caring for those who are most in need in this country, much like they do in DC.

While all of you may have some validity to your points, what have you done recently to help the less fortunate? If we all would put our energy into helping instead of endless debating, maybe a difference would be made.

I dare any one of you to listen.

Aug. 08 2011 12:02 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

I have a solution to American poverty. The same one that we used from 1941-1945. We built many bombers, and raze the factories of Germany, Japan, and now China to the ground. With no viable industrial economies to compete with, we will get all the orders from abroad and the wealth will flow back here. That was how we got the prosperous '50s and '60s.

It began to slow in the '70s when energy prices shot up, and when European and Japanese competition began to tell. Then in the Reagan years, we learned how to live like wealthy people but on an increasing mountain of debt.
In the '90s. thanks to the US computer and internet industries, we got a bit of a reprieve.
But then, with the fall of Communism, 3 billion Chinese, Russians, Indians and Eastern Europeans became capitalists but we became casino gamblers in response. We shifted factories there, and built casinos in their place here. The debts just kept on growing. Now the baby boomers retire, and the bill is DUE. No more excuses like "the check is in the mail."

Aug. 08 2011 11:50 AM
David from Brooklyn

You merely have to peruse the graduation year book through the 19th century of the infamous Far Rockaway High School, which is no longer a high school, to see the obvious!

Aug. 08 2011 11:47 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Of course, I didn't find the web address for the PCIP till the segment was over. It's

Aug. 08 2011 11:44 AM

It's always both fascinating and depressing to hear an economically-ignorant person like Ehrenreich suggest solving our current economic problems with solutions which will only make things exponentially worse for the people she erroneously believes she will be helping. I have a suggestion for Babs: Learn some BASIC economics before you offer "economic" solutions to our problems. Two books I strongly recommend are:

Economics in One Lesson:

What Has Government Done to Our Money:

Perhaps then the "caring" Ehrenreich will understand why things are getting progressively (no pun intended) in this country for not only poor people, but now for even the middle class.

Aug. 08 2011 11:41 AM
Amy from Manhattan

For people without health insurance who have pre-existing conditions, the Affordable Care Act includes the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan, which "provides a health coverage option for children and adults in all 50 states and the District of Columbia who have been locked out of the health insurance market because of a pre-existing condition." You have to have been uninsured for at least 6 months. You can do a search on "PCIP" to find more info.

Aug. 08 2011 11:39 AM
Gary from queens


You'll be surprised to learn that anyone---rich or poor, who neglects to fill out a mail forwarding form at their post office will fail to get a court summons and receive the same consequences.

AND Community Policing, Comstat and the enforcement of the "broken window" theory of policing had benefited people like me who live in the hood, with greater safety to live our lives. If you still reside in a gated liberal community on LI, you wouldn't know this, as you apparently don't.

Aug. 08 2011 11:37 AM
BK from Hoboken

She guest may be a socialist (and I consider myself a pragmatic capitalist), but you can't argue with the facts- the wealth gap is widening between the upper class an lower classes, as well as between white and minority groups. The middle class has not seen a real rise in income in a generation. The gap is as wide as the beginning of the 20ty century when industrialists ruled. These are the facts.

At least the bankers and industrialists back then built real infrastructure that benefitted society, and ultimately gave away much of their fortunes. What are these hedge fund managers doing other than moving currency from one account to another?

Aug. 08 2011 11:34 AM
Katherine Jackson from LES

Jamie,! This is a plea!! Listen to Barbara Ehrenreich about the health care situation, the safety net being transformed into a dragnet, etc. How can you talk about "the middle," "the war between the left and the right in Wahsington," etc. etc. as you did in your previous story on the S & P downgrade, and not connect the dots with this segment??? This is not an accurate way to analyze the political stalemate in Washington. The Tea Party is absolutely 100% for cutting the very "safety net" Barbara Ehrenreich sees as the only protection the people she's describing has. 100%. The so-called Left, might be afraid -- politically -- to raise the issue of revamping entitlements, but this is hardly equivalent to the right wing's take no prisoners, anti-government (but not anti-Bush tax cuts) position. PLEASE stop talking about some moving target middle, and start intelligently talking about the way to fix the economy!!!!! Thank you.

Aug. 08 2011 11:32 AM
Ken from Little Neck

Nothing like talking about poverty to bring out the bigots. I think that proves Ms. Ehrenreich is trying to make very succinctly.

Aug. 08 2011 11:31 AM
Steve from Flatbush

Come on, Jamie. Being so obsequious towards a white woman for being "in touch" with "people of color" is, frankly, obnoxious. It's so tiresome to hand out plaudits to white people for being able to "understand" the plight of all those "poor unfortunate" non-whites. There is no question that race is an issue in this country, but it's sickening when white people pat themselves and other whites on the back for being the white savior, or champion, of the "brown savages."

Aug. 08 2011 11:29 AM
David from Brooklyn

The widespread practice to remain under the poverty income level can be substantially profitable in the New York tri-state area. Numerous groups receive all the benefits of low income housing, Medicaid and food stamps (in the form of benefit cards) by not revealing their true income to the detriment of those who are truly in need.

Aug. 08 2011 11:24 AM
Gary from queens

It's not a crime to be poor. it's just a crime not to pay your debts.

No one argues that poverty is a bitch. We just want to hear Barbara's solutions. Viable ones, not unsustainable socialist ones.

Aug. 08 2011 11:21 AM

1. Food pantries are routinely running out of food in many parts of the country.

2. Fully ONE QUARTER of New York City children live in households that are "food stressed" -- that is, the income-earners have trouble paying for food.

3. Bringing in boarders is a feature of tenement New York from the 1870s through the 1930s.

4. Pay -- in _real_ dollars -- since the 1970s has _declined_ for the average American. The difference has been made up by working more hours, having more people in the household in the workforce.

5. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since the 1970s, it would now be $15 per hour or higher.

6. If the decline continues, as many think it will, for another 10 years (thanks to Wall Street, Republicans _and_ Obama Democrats), someone newly unemployed and in his or her 50s will _likely_ never hold down a steady job _again_. They will reach retirement age having been unemployed for 10 years.

Think about it, folks. Think about the pathological lying of Republicans and MOST Democrats.

Aug. 08 2011 11:21 AM

Gary from queens is a free market capitalist. And like most right wingers, he idealizes captalism, despite its failures. He also doesn't understand socialism, and for that reason, he should go back to school and learn it from a non-partisan professor this time.

THAT's my relevant comment.

PS Dow rallying at 11:10 -- only down 259 or 2.27%.

Aug. 08 2011 11:20 AM
Gary from queens

Barbara Ehrenreich is a socialist. And like most socialists, she idealizes socialism, despite its failures. She also doesn't understand capitalism, and for that reason, she should go back to school and learn it from a conservative professor this time.

THAT's my relevant comment.

Aug. 08 2011 11:05 AM
jmurphy from Long Island

This topic is never untimely, as blue collar and so-called unskilled workers are always struggling or, at best, managing, regardless of the national economy. My husband is a janitor in NYC, so I know.

Thank you Ms. Ehrenreich for bringing attention to the people who are underappreciated every day.

Aug. 08 2011 11:01 AM
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Aug. 08 2011 10:52 AM

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