Nickel & Dimed (part 1 of 2) [Book Review]

Homelessness is the state of not possessing the right to use a single place for shelter persistently.

Joblessness is the state of not possessing the privilege to be paid for work persistently.

Homelessness and joblessness are both very prominent problems here in America, and have been for quite some time. However, they are not always causally linked, nor does remedying one necessarily remedy the other.

In the book Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich explores the state of America’s lower-class (the various poverty strata) that struggle to live even modestly while working one or more jobs.  At the time this book was written (1998-2000), America’s job market was booming; in fact, that time period was at the tail end of a decline in unemployment that led to the lowest unemployment rates we’ve seen in the past 20 years. [As a side note, unemployment has been steadily eking upwards since World War II ended, along a boom-bust pattern]

It seems completely counter-intuitive: we are told time and time again this Protestant mantra that hard work is the path to prosperity; that the poverty-stricken and homeless are the way they are because of sloth or carelessness and bad choices; that having a job will logically lead to having a home and ultimately a life.

But the reality is far less simplistic.

Ehrenreich’s approach to research, calling on her background in the natural sciences, is to, as she says, sit at the bench and do the work. This particular approach has been tried by others, such as Morgan Spurlock on his show 30 Days, and while I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely accurate, it definitely provides more insight than simply crunching numbers. She confesses, in the beginning, that while she will work hard and fully intends to make her research as realistic as possible by abandoning the opportunities and resources granted to her by her privileged social stratum, she will not do so to the point that it threatens her health or safety. Personally, I felt this was a reasonable compromise.

Throughout the course of the book she works under a pseudonym as a food server in Florida, in a nursing home and as a cleaning maid in Maine, and in retail at Wal-Mart in Minnesota. She works roughly a month in each job before leaving; although I can never tell if her job-changes are arbitrary based on time or because she just can’t take the work anymore.

Her writing style is very candid, informal, and I would even venture to say that she certainly doesn’t pull her punches, referring to one of her bosses as a “pimp” at one point. She does anonymize the people in the book, to protect their identities, however.

I felt this book was worth reading: it’s relatively short (~230 pages) but provides some terrific insight which is backed by textual research (“Real Research™”). Despite the book being 10 years, things haven’t changed all that much, which is quite unfortunate.

More in-depth discussion after the jump. (Due to this particular review being so massive, I’ve broken it up into two parts, with part 2 posting tomorrow)

Continue reading

Cultures of No

Prohibited Signs (from iStockphoto.com)We have a local pizzeria called “Joe’s Pizza.” For a while, Joe’s Pizza had a satellite establishment at our campus cafe. I believe their contract was for 1 year of service, with potential for future renewals.

In the beginning, it was great — they were very busy, sold a lot of food, and from the outside they appeared to be doing well. It seemed like a win-win situation for everyone. As an employee, I didn’t get a discount, but we could order full pies at a discounted rate.

Midway through the year, things changed. I think management changed, actually. With that change of hands came a change in culture, and not for the better. Continue reading

Outsourcing & the Karmic Egg

So Melissa and I have finally decided to officially start our own publishing company.

She thought of the name “Karmic Egg” (the “egg” being short for “egghead”, I presume). We registered the domain karmicegg.com a couple days ago, set up a Twitter account, Facebook fan page, and I transferred my development wiki to the new domain.

Melissa designed this really awesome logo, as well! I’m not totally settled on the typography, but the graphic itself is wicked awesome.

Our Publishing company will be an outlet for both of our collective hobbies involving publishable media (ie. not her crafties, but any books, writing, cards, games, etc. that we may produce). She is currently shopping around for a printer for her Melissa Lenormand divination deck / art project, and I’m in the playtesting phase of one game and nearly there with another (two others are still in early development).

The company is still in its infancy, but we’ve already had an absolutely surreal experience. Continue reading

Free Lunch [Book Review]

Free Lunch, by David Cay Johnston, is subtitled “How the wealthiest Americans enrich themselves at government expense (and stick you with the bill).” Yes, it’s one of THOSE books.

I’ve read and watched a fair share of media concerning how Corporate America ™ is bilking the Middle and Lower classes, so I honestly expected to not see anything I hadn’t seen already. But once I started this book, I couldn’t stop. Johnston’s ability to investigate, research, and synthesize this topic is astounding. The only thing that could have made this book better is a “happy ending,” or sense of resolution, at the end of each chapter; But that would just be sugar-coating the reality of things.

This book is not for the faint of heart, not for those that can’t tolerate the raise in their blood pressure from anger & aggravation, and certainly not for those that cannot deal with harsh realities. Continue reading

Credit, pt. 1

As the beginning of my last undergrad semester looms near, it’s time to buy books.  Books are expensive, of course (I only needed two textbooks: “The World of Cell” and “Elementary Differential Equations”, and it cost just shy of $300), but receiving a fat student grant makes it far more manageable.

As is my tradition, I apply the leftover grant money (the bulk of it anyways) to my credit card.  This time around, I was able to pay off half of the remaining $2,600 balance with grant money. 

I have had an active line of liquid debt for 11 years — it has never once been zero’d out completely. In fact, if you think of a credit card like a stack of plates, where each purchase gets stacked on the next, and you pay them off by removing plates, then the first purchases I made 11 years ago are still waiting to be paid off!

This isn’t a “stay away from credit cards, they are TEH DANGERUZZ!!!!!” post, although I do believe people should have a healthy respect & awareness for the amount of debt they accrue. 

There are a few things I think every consumer (i.e. you) should know about credit debt, and I say this as someone that has been almost obsessively debt-minded (ask my wife) for a little over 5 years. Continue reading