“I can’t imagine getting involved in a problem as a journalist and not wanting to do something about it,” wrote Ehrenreich of her activist brand of investigative journalism. Published in 2001, Nickel and Dimed was a response to the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform — namely, the notion that unskilled jobs could lift people out of poverty. Ehrenreich (who also has a Ph.D. in cellular biology) suspected differently. So she went undercover as a waitress in Florida, a maid in Maine and a store clerk in Minnesota, working alongside impoverished people with few options. Outraged but never sanctimonious, she spotlighted the vulnerability of wage workers — and how all of us are implicated when we accept the benefits of cheap labor.
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