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Know the West

Blindsided by poverty


I hope we haven’t forgotten Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, published in 2001 by Metropolitan Books (“Life below the poverty line,” HCN, 6/10/19). In Chapter 2, “Scrubbing in Maine,” Ehrenreich works in a place that, like Montana, could be known for its whiteness. On the basis of that one piece of camouflage, we watch her infiltrate the low-wage workforce. Ehrenreich has running laments throughout her book, as she procures a series of low-wage jobs, complete with a gantlet of “opinion surveys” judging her attitude toward drugs. The questions appear to be a check on her understanding of hierarchy and subordination. Yet there are no quizzical looks from interviewers. No one questions that a smart, articulate woman cannot escape a menial job. Not a single person is in the least curious about her circumstances, or what brought her to her position of poverty. Ehrenreich nails what it is like living below the poverty line, including its loneliness, hopelessness and dismal outlook. Apparently this story must still be retold endlessly, because, as Ehrenreich says, “America is blind to the downside of its poverty.”

Mike Fried
Broomfield, Colorado