When one is charged a little bit at a time until the expense grows beyond expectations, that is called being "nickel and dimed." In 2001's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, essayist and social critic Barbara Ehrenreich applies this notion to minimum-wage workers. She argues that their spirit and dignity are chipped away by a culture that allows unjust and unlivable working conditions, which results in their becoming a de facto, or actual without being official, servant class. Spurred on by recent welfare reforms and the growing phenomenon of the working poor in the United States, Ehrenreich poses a hypothetical question of daily concern to many Americans: how difficult is it to live on a minimum-wage job? For the lower class, what does it take to match the income one earns to the expenses one must pay?
Rather than simply listen to other people's accounts, Ehrenreich herself assumes the role of a minimum-wage worker. In different states and in several different jobs, she attempts three times to live for one month at minimum wage, giving up her middle-class comforts to experience the overlooked hardships of a large sector of America. While she freely admits that hers is an unusual situation, she stresses it is also a best-case scenario; others face many more difficulties in their daily lives, such as the lack of available transportation. Due to an accessible style and subject matter, Nickel and Dimed became a bestseller that helped restart dialogue on the current state of American work, American values, and the consequences of letting a national emergency remain unacknowledged for too long.