Premise: undercover journalist works low-wage jobs and realizes, after skipping a few meals and finding that even trailers are out of her budget, that being poor in America is a particularly miserable and largely invisible thing.
Books like this are a conundrum to me. They are hugely readable (Ehrenreich in particular writes the speediest heavy-subject nonfiction I have ever encountered), they become widely-read bestsellers, yet they tackle problems so massive and ingrained that I don’t know what they can really do except make their readers more compassionate. But I guess I say this from the perspective of someone who did not need her mind changed about the working poor in America. Because I guarantee you that the majority of people I know in Texas live in a state of vaguely racist, prosperity-gospel-induced misinformation about basic social facts: for example, the fact that the majority of welfare recipients are white, and the fact that poor people can’t just “work hard,” get rich and start hiring Mexican maids of their very own.
I think everyone should read this book, not because it’s incredibly revelatory (although it might be to some), but because it really hammers home the fact that people working shitty jobs work a lot harder than people working good jobs. Poor should not be equated with lazy. There was a huge Living Wage protest my first year at UVA, when a group of students started fighting really hard to get the UVA staff wage up a dollar or so per hour–enough to provide food for a family and the cheapest of rents–and people went apeshit. Conservative students were truly up in arms at the idea that “the market” wouldn’t take care of this problem, and spouted all this stuff about second jobs and “making it work.” Then they bought a new nail polish or a case of beer, because Living Wage had made for a really stressful discussion in their two hours of class, and took a much-deserved nap.