Nickel & Dimed: Women, Welfare & Work
The “reform” of welfare is an historic shift in public policy. One of the central linchpins of the New Deal has been undone. Millions, mostly women and many of them with children, have been thrown off the welfare rolls. Many have landed in dead end low wage jobs. Their quiet lives of desperation are not the grist for prime time specials. The media are largely silent. At the same time politicians trumpet welfare reform as a successful example of compassionate conservatism. Critics are not so sanguine. They call it welfare deform.
Barbara Ehrenreich was a renowned social critic, journalist, feminist and author. She was born in Butte, Montana and studied chemistry at Reed College in Oregon and later received a Ph.D. in cellular immunology at Rockefeller University in New York. But she left a possible career in science and teaching to become a muckraker in the tradition of Ida B. Wells and Lincoln Steffens. She wrote many books. Her articles appeared in Ms., Mother Jones, and The Progressive. She wrote incisively and with compassion about working people and the hardships they endure. To write about the underclass she went undercover and took low-wage jobs such as hotel maid, cleaning houses, nursing home aide and waitressing. Through her work she made the invisible working poor visible. She was long active in the DSA, Democratic Socialists of America. In 2012 she founded the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, seeking to place the crisis of poverty and economic insecurity at the center of the national political conversation. Her best-known book Nickel and Dimed, a classic in social justice literature, has sold millions of copies. She passed away on September 1, 2022. Katha Pollitt in The Nation wrote “Barbara accomplished so much, but what I love most about her work is that it was never boilerplate. She always found a way to take her argument to a deeper level. And there was always empathy—for the people who are overlooked, whose struggles are disregarded, who have to fight for food and shelter and a halfway decent life, for every shred of dignity and recognition.”
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