What exactly is a living wage? Everyday many Americans are just getting by; they live pay-check to pay-check, sometimes in a rental home or apartment, sometimes in motels with weekly rates, or the back seat of a car. Diets are corn-based, consistently cheap, filling, and easy to prepare. Meals are snatched in between pouring coffee in diners, cleaning homes, or endlessly folding piles of knit pants in Wal-Mart. Their lives are hard, as Ehrenreich discovers, showing that existing on a “living wage” is a far cry from the American dream.
In 1998, Ehrenreich joined the ranks of low-wage American workers, covering three cities and more jobs, across the nation. This is an absorbing account of that journey—Ehrenreich is funny and wise. She wrote an afterward in 2008, showing the steadily increasing problems of problems of low-wage workers.