Sharp, empathetic, astute, Ehrenreich speaks loudly and eloquently for a group of workers who are often too tired and too...

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NICKEL AND DIMED

ON (NOT) GETTING BY IN BOOM-TIME AMERICA

With wit and anger, a celebrated social commentator paints a brutal portrait of the world of low-wage work during the 1990s, when “welfare as we know it” was about to end and America was at the crest of its biggest economic wave in history.

How do millions of the poor (especially the unskilled and often illiterate young mothers now forced off welfare and into the labor market) get by on minimum-wage jobs? Ehrenreich (Blood Rites, 1997, etc.) decided to try for herself, and began a new life as a waitress in Florida earning $2.43 an hour plus tips. Moving next to Maine, she worked during the week for a housecleaning service ($6.65 an hour), and on weekends for an old-age home ($7). Later on, she moved to Minnesota and took a job at Wal-Mart ($7). Everywhere she went she faced a great scarcity of affordable housing, and at one point she was paying $245 a week (more than her net salary) for a run-down motel with no lock on the door and no screen on the window. As for health care—well, what can be done about illness or pain when (1) you can’t afford to miss a day of work, and (2) health benefits, if they even exist, are lousy? Ehrenreich found that most of her fellow workers, despite their financial, physical, and emotional burdens, were kind, generous, and diligent—not slothful or embittered as some observers would have it. Her personal experiences are bolstered with statistics on jobs, wages, and services available (fewer and fewer). Is there an answer? More government support in terms of housing and childcare subsidies would help, she says; so might unions. But the most important improvement would be a better understanding (on the part of those who can effect change) that it is the working poor who are the “major philanthropists of our society,” sacrificing health, family, even nourishment, to sustain those above them in the food chain.

Sharp, empathetic, astute, Ehrenreich speaks loudly and eloquently for a group of workers who are often too tired and too manipulated to speak for themselves.

Pub Date: May 8, 2001

ISBN: 0-8050-6388-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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