The following is an excerpt from Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Listen to an interview with Barbara Ehrenreich here.
The idea that led to this book arose in comparatively sumptuous circumstances. Lewis Lapham, the editor of Harper’s, had taken me out for a $30 lunch at some understated French country-style place to discuss figure articles I might write for his magazine. I had the salmon and field greens, I think, and was pitching him some ideas having to do with pop culture when the conversation drifted to one of my more familiar themes — poverty. How does anyone live on the wages available to the unskilled? How, in particular, we wondered, were the roughly four million women about to be booted into the labor market by welfare reform going to make it on $6 or $7 an hour? Then I said something that I have since had many opportunities to regret: “Someone out to do the old-fashioned kind of journalism — you know, go out there and try it for themselves.” I meant someone much younger than myself, some hungry neophyte journalist with time on her hands. But Lapham got this crazy-looking half smile on his face and ended life as I knew it, for long stretches at least, with the single word “You.”