This book has a good premise that is poorly executed. Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich set out to uncover what it's like to be part of the working class poor in America. With her masters degree and a chunk of "just-in-case" money she goes "undercover," taking jobs that pay only $6 or $7 an hour and writes about how she gets by. The first fourth of the book I was intrigued, but it quickly went down hill.
To start, there is a big difference between pretending to be poor, knowing you will return to your enjoyable life in a few months, than actually being poor. Ehrenreich never actually discusses this discrepancy, nor does she acknowledge the fact that she doesn't struggle with many barriers that actual poor people do. More often than not, there is a reason behind someone's poverty, whether that reason be lack of education, addiction, lack of resources, language barriers, mental disabilities; the list goes on. Ehrenreich never really has a problem finding a job, no matter how low paying, but she doesn't talk about the fact that her ability to speak well, or the fact that she has means to a shower everyday and a dentist anytime she needs, might just have helped her get said job so quickly. There are many people who aren't so lucky.
The book also reeked of haughtiness. Many times Ehrenreich questioned why no one realized she had a masters, or even asked her about it, implying an innate link between education and intelligence; implying that those with no education are not intelligent because you know, she was different from everyone else. She was smarter because she had a higher education and used to eat frisee salads for lunch, you guys. How could no one notice she didn't belong? How could they not figure her out? This attitude of hers got old fast.
Finally, to top it all of, after she tells her coworkers - you know, those people who actually are poor - that SURPRISE, she's really a journalist who will be returning to her comfortable life - she couldn't believe their reaction wasn't greater! Why weren't they floored? Why didn't they worry about more than who would have to cover her shift until they hired someone else? Moreover, she didn't even consider the fact that writing about how hard it is to be poor, from the perspective of a well-off, pretentious individual, might be somewhat offensive to these women who are struggling to get by. It's almost as if she's saying "Sorry your life sucks, but at least it's well articulated in this new book I wrote about you that will be published soon. Peace."
I mean come on! There are so many things wrong with this book.
Publisher: Owl Books, 2001