Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America

by Barbara Ehrenreich

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In "Scrubbing in Maine", what rule does Ehrenreich break and why, in Nickel and Dimed?

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In Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America Barbara Ehrenreich goes undercover to see how people living at minimum wage live. As she begins the project she sets three rules for herself. First, she could not use skills that came from her education or job experience. Second, she had to take the highest paying job she was offered and do her best to keep it. Finally, she had to take the cheapest housing she could find as long as she considered it safe and private enough.

Ehrenreich ends up breaking all of these rules at least once throughout the process. In Chapter 2, Scrubbing in Maine, it could be argued that she breaks two of her three rules, though it is mere a matter of degrees then a clearly broken rule. First, she does not take the cheapest housing she can get. The cheapest she can find is $65 a week. To be fair it does sound like the place was unsafe. She also turns down an apartment for $110 and settles on a place for $120 a week that meets her standards for safe and secure.

Another rule Ehrenreich stretches in this chapter is her rule about trying to keep a job. She works for a maid service. One day one of her coworkers falls and injures her ankle. When her boss tells the coworker to work through it, Ehrenreich screams at him. She fully expects to get fired and broke her rule to try to keep her job at all costs.

There are more specific examples of Ehrenreich breaking rules. At one point she chooses a lower paying job and she rarely chooses the cheapest housing. She also drew on her language skills a bit when interviewing to be a waitress. These things happen in other chapters.

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