Ten years ago at the behest of then Harper‘s editor Lewis Lapham, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote Nickel and Dimed:On Not Getting by in America, a most unlikely best seller. On its 10th anniversary Henry Holt has published a new edition with an afterword by Ms Ehrenreich a version of which, entitled Nickel and Dimed (2011 Version) On Turning Poverty into an American Crime, is to be found at TomDispatch.com
So what is the solution to the poverty of so many of America’s working people? Ten years ago, when Nickel and Dimed first came out, I often responded with the standard liberal wish list — a higher minimum wage, universal health care, affordable housing, good schools, reliable public transportation, and all the other things we, uniquely among the developed nations, have neglected to do.
Today, the answer seems both more modest and more challenging: if we want to reduce poverty, we have to stop doing the things that make people poor and keep them that way. Stop underpaying people for the jobs they do. Stop treating working people as potential criminals and let them have the right to organize for better wages and working conditions.
Stop the institutional harassment of those who turn to the government for help or find themselves destitute in the streets. Maybe, as so many Americans seem to believe today, we can’t afford the kinds of public programs that would genuinely alleviate poverty — though I would argue otherwise. But at least we should decide, as a bare minimum principle, to stop kicking people when they’re down.
Makes sense to me.