Book Review #71: “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America” *Re-Read*

Nickel and Dimed

Image Credit: Goodreads

When I initially read this book, it was assigned reading for one of my very first college classes. I can’t remember which one, but this book left a profound impact on me. Slowly, I started reading more from Barbara Ehrenreich. However, this is the book that started it all.

I started college in the fall of 2007, about a year before the financial crisis that began in 2008. I believe I was assigned to read this book at a poignant time. I also believe I’m re-reading this book at another poignant time, at the beginning of 2019.

Going into re-reading this, I realized my copy of the book was updated with a new afterword, published in 2008. However, the overall concept – Studying low-wage jobs and attempting to understand their socioeconomic impacts – is nothing new. That’s part of the reason I was drawn to Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

Ehrenreich embarked on an experiment in 1998 – Trying to see if she, as a single, middle-aged woman, could survive as a waitress, a cleaner (hotel maid and house cleaner), a nursing home aide, and a seller / retail associate for a month, in three different cities. Each chapter explores a different type of job and a different city. She quickly realized the challenges with each one, and each city presented its own obstacles with housing, food, and assistance. Along the way, she met a variety of people working these jobs. A few were fortunate, but many were barely making ends meet. Several were working 2-3 jobs full-time, and still struggling with their incomes and their partner’s / spouse’s income(s) as well.

I won’t spoil anything, but she learns many lessons along the way. She discovers multiple issues with affordable housing, child care costs, fast food, health care, education, and the way these companies treat their employees.

I got a bit lost with the footnotes, statistics, and percentages, and glossed over a few of them toward the end. However, reading the updated afterword was important, and appreciated. This country has a lot to learn, still, in 2019. We need to treat employees, especially those earning the absolute minimum, better.

Overall, I’m glad I took the time to re-read this book. It’s a bit “dated” now, since Ehrenreich’s experiment started and concluded 21 years ago. However, it’s still relevant in many aspects today. And, like her, I’m grateful for everything I’ve had and worked for. This is a valuable book that will stay on my bookshelf forever.

4 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #68: “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”

evicted

Image Credit: Amazon

I think I first heard about this book from friends on Facebook, who all said what a powerful book it was.

Then, author Matthew Desmond was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air in April 2018. My local area, Hampton Roads in Virginia, was specifically mentioned in the interview regarding high numbers of evictions in three separate cities. It stung, and propelled me to want to learn more. As soon as possible.


I bought the book in August, and finally started it in late December. But once I started, I could not put it down. By the time we came home from the farm on December 26th, I’d flown through Part One. I was itching to go to bed that night, eager to dive in to Part Two. It only took me a few more nights of intense reading to finish it. I came away from it with a greater understanding, and appreciation, for being able to own my own home with my husband. It’s one of those books that makes me realize how good I have it, especially as a white woman with no children.

I’m drawn to books like this because of the human interest. I was reminded of the term “ethnography,” which is the systematic study of people and cultures. Author Matthew Desmond settled in Milwaukee, in the trailer park and other low-income neighborhoods, to not only interview people for the book, but to learn about their lives, and specifically what they go through day by day. The housing crisis and recession of the late-2000s began while he was conducting interviews, and it’s referenced in the book as well.

However, the housing crisis and recession are not all to blame here. It’s just one factor. There are many other factors involved with eviction and those who struggle with it. Landlords have profited by buying cheap, often dilapidated houses or buildings, charging rent, and then sometimes refusing to fix inherent problems in these properties. The tenants complain, nothing gets fixed, and rent can go unpaid or withheld. There are certain processes for evictions, but they vary greatly. There are voluntary and involuntary procedures. It’s definitely not black-and-white.

When someone is evicted, that goes on their record. It’s exponentially harder for parents with children to find an affordable place to live, and eviction(s) exacerbate that problem. Multiple evictions are even more problematic. It’s a vicious cycle, where parents want to protect their kids from negative influences and crime, but can’t break out of those areas because of their eviction record. Welfare benefits can also be affected. If you’re lucky to have a job, getting evicted can cause immense stress, affecting job performance and more. Choices have to be made, painfully – Pay rent, or the utilities, or the car repair, or a need for your kids. Kids are uprooted, shuffled, changing schools, and also stressed. It’s a horrible experience all around.

Desmond’s dedication to these interviews, living in their space, researching the processes and procedures, and soaking up everything he could about eviction shines through this book. It’s depressing, in more ways than one, but incredibly informative, educational, and eye-opening.

This is one of those books, in my opinion, should be studied and taught in schools, especially upper levels of high schools and colleges/universities. It’s an important issue that needs more focus, discussion, and change.

My eyes were opened widely to the multiple problems regarding eviction. I thought I knew a few things, but this book turned my thinking completely on its head. The book focused specifically on Milwaukee during a set number of years, but there are eviction problems and issues throughout the entire U.S.

That was one of the focuses of Desmond’s interview with Terry Gross – Thanks to receiving a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 2015, Desmond has started The Eviction Lab, where a dedicated team of researchers and students from Princeton University are creating the first-ever eviction database in the U.S. At the time of the interview, in April 2018, the Lab had already collected 83 million records from 48 states and the District of Columbia.

The book was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2017. That says something, too.

“Stabilizing a home has all sorts of positive benefits for a family,” Desmond said in the interview.

Desmond has written two other books, and co-authored one on race. I look forward to reading and seeing more from him.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Writing Prompt #6: Skinning Humanity

“We are all brothers under the skin – and I, for one, would be willing to skin humanity to prove it.”

-Ayn Rand


I’ve mulled over this topic for a while now. There are so many facets to this one.

Here’s a few questions to ponder:

  • How do you see yourself?
  • How do you see others?
  • How are you acting and showing yourself to others?

I put up a picture of a being that is half-angel, half-demon. I believe that there are angels and demons within all of us, and then those angels and demons also themselves known, through our words and actions.

Also, Ayn Rand is a bad-ass. I read several of her books in high school and college (Anthem, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged). I plan to re-read them, as I know my perceptions have shifted in becoming an adult. Check her out. I could fill a blog post and then some about her, her life, and her works.


This post was partially inspired by a conversation between my friend Justin and I.

In the fall of 2010, we originally met as classmates in Halliday’s Basic Broadcasting class. I’ll admit, at first, Justin intimidated me. He towered over me, plus he was taller than everyone else, with the exception of the two basketball players in the class.

He normally dressed in all black, didn’t say much to anyone, and appeared “emo” to me.

But I didn’t know him then.

On the flip side, Justin thought I was a super energetic sorority girl who took notes constantly. I mean, I literally wrote down almost everything that either Halliday said, or what was on his PowerPoints. Yeah, I was that kid.


Justin said, “Do not judge the holy man to be 100 percent pure, and do not judge the kid all in black of being incapable of giving and feeling love.”

In short, this goes back to the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Because of this conversation, I started looking at the people around me a bit differently.

I personally try, with all my might, to not judge anyone. I want to make an honest effort to get to know people first, before deciding if I like them or not.

For the most part, I get along with almost everyone. I kill with kindness, so to speak. However, there are some people, and some character traits, that just bug the hell out of me and drive me crazy. So, my resolve is to avoid these people and character traits as much as I can. If there are instances where I can’t avoid them, I just smile, nod, and get through it. And if it becomes unbearable or massively uncomfortable, I cut them out of my life. It’s happened before, and it will probably happen some more in the future. It’s really freeing, actually.

With Justin, I may have been intimidated at first, but that didn’t last long. We ended up in group projects for both of Halliday’s Broadcasting classes, and we progressed from classmates to being friends. Now, four years later, we’re close friends and enjoy meeting up as often as possible with our significant others.


Justin also shared this system he had come up with a while ago, called “The Caste of 4 Wings.”

“What you wear and how you act around strangers and friends are key factors in how your wings will be seen”

There are four types of wings that people can possess:

  1. White Angel Wings: People who are seen by society and others to be good, caring, and warm people. In truth they are that. They help out others, volunteer, do good work for others.
  2. Black Demon Wings: People who are seen as no good and untrustworthy, evil and vile. They live up to that, as they abuse people, murder, rob, treat others like shit.
  3. Black Angel Wings: Wings wore by people who are seen as good people and someone you can trust but in reality they are the opposite. Can manipulate people, use the trust of others and exploit it for their own personal gain. How they are seen by others is not who they really are.
  4. White Demon Wings: Wings wore by people deemed by society as a menace, like outsiders or loners who people think don’t do anything really. In reality they just want to love people, can perhaps be hurt and want others to say “It’s okay.” and despite what others see them as, their true friends know the goodness, love, and kindness in their hearts.

I was absolutely fascinated as Justin was explaining this to me.


Then it shifted to what wings we thought we had. For me, I thought it over for a while.

In the past, I’ve been characterized as having White Angel Wings – Being the teacher’s pet, being a “goody two-shoes,” volunteering my time and talents, always willing to sign up, step up, and help anyone.

And over the years, that hasn’t really changed, I don’t think. I’ve always tried to be warm, caring, and a good person overall. However, I’m certainly not perfect, nor do I want to be. So I may have White Angel Wings, but I try to be as humble and down-to-earth as possible.

Justin considers himself to have White Demon Wings. Once I read the explanation, it made perfect sense. This is how I saw him when we first met at Longwood. I personally never saw him as a “menace,” but I originally thought he was a loner and kept to himself. I knew he loved video games. I wasn’t sure about him and his personality, at first.

In reality, he’s a wonderful guy, with such a big heart. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him better over the last few years, and he’s a great friend. I’m so happy that he’s found love with his girlfriend Heaven. He enjoys his solitude and he’s definitely a gamer, but those are not bad things. He likes to plan get-togethers with our group of six friends (Al, me, Justin, Heaven, Drew, and Katie). We’re stoked about going to Kings Dominion in a week and a half with Al, Heaven, Katie, and our friends Brian and Mike.


As I thought about “The Caste of 4 Wings,” I realized there are people that I have encountered in my 26 years on this Earth who have all four types of wings. I certainly prefer to interact with the ones that have White Angel Wings and White Demon Wings. However, I’ve acknowledged that a select few that I’ve known have had Black Angel Wings and Black Demon Wings. Fortunately, most of them have faded from my life, at this point. There are a few that are manipulators that I have to deal with and have dealt with, but as long as I’m able to take them in small doses, I’m good.

These wings can be applied to everyone. I’ve thought about those who have made headlines recently, from the President, to Dylann Roof, to the Pope, to the people who report the news.

  • President Obama: Due to the nature of his position, as a politician in the U.S. and now the Commander-in-Chief, I would classify him as having Black Angel Wings, from my perspective. However, there are others that probably perceive him as having Black Demon Wings. In fact, there are probably people in this country that have thought of him as having all four kinds of wings, at certain points in his career.
  • Dylann Roof: As the suspected shooter of nine black people in a South Carolina church, this guy has Black Demon Wings, all the way. I can’t see it another way.
  • Pope Francis: Like the President, I’m sure people have thought of the Pope as having different kinds of wings. For me, I’m happy that he has been proactive on so many issues. Because of that, and the appearance of a warm, caring nature for everyone, I would give him White Angel Wings.
  • News Anchors/Reporters: As a mass media major in college, I definitely got an education on what news reporters and anchors do and how the broadcasting realm works. Their images are projected for all to see, but we don’t really see them off-camera. We don’t know who they really are when the camera turns off. Again, people have probably given them all four types of wings at some point. It’s hard to pinpoint, but for me, I can see them having Black Angel Wings or White Demon Wings, and in rare instances, White Angel Wings.

Keep in mind, these are just examples. And these are strictly my thoughts and opinions.

What do you think?


I’m glad Justin and I had this conversation. It really has changed my perspective on people, both in my life and those that I have never met.

I really like “The Caste of 4 Wings,” and I’m happy Justin shared it with me. Now I find myself thinking of people in terms of what wings I think they have, and then setting out to see if my perceptions are really true, or not. It’s fascinating to think about. This is something that will stick with me forever.

I encourage you to try it for yourself. Think about the wings you think you have, and then the wings of people around you. You might surprise yourself. I know it surprised me.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂