A popular book used in social justice courses is Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. For schools who have assigned this book on the summer reading list or for an assignment during the year, consider integrating the Nickel and Dimed discussion questions that are offered below.
For those who have not read the book, journalist Barbara Ehrenreich takes a sabbatical from her life to see “how the other half lives.” She takes on a series of low-paying jobs and tries to make ends meet like millions of Americans do each day. Barbara reflects on her experiences and the people that she meets to help make the invisible poor visible once again. Though the book is in parts vulgar and opinionated, it is an eye-opening testimony to the lives of the many people living in poverty today.
Chapter 1 Discussion Questions: Serving in Florida
- Why was it so difficult for Barbara to land her “dream job” of housekeeping at a hotel?
- Why was it so difficult for Barbara and the people she met to find housing?
- How successful would you rate Barbara’s attempt to work a second job to pay the rent? Why?
- On her short visit home, how did her former life compare to her new life?
- What hope do the people that Barbara encounters have for their future?
- Can we blame the people Barbara encounters for their poverty?
Chapter 2 Discussion Questions: Scrubbing in Maine
- In the tent revival scene, what is her frustration with modern Christianity in America?
- According to the author, what is wrong with preaching Christ crucified?
- She describes Jesus as a “wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist.” Is this your impression of Jesus Christ from reading the Gospels? (Define vagrant and socialist, if necessary.) How does Jesus differ from a socialist?
- Read the Sermon on the Mount. Do you think Jesus would call for a minimum wage hike?
Chapter 3 Discussion Questions: Selling in Minneapolis
- What is the point of the drug tests if they only recognize marijuana?
- What is a living wage? How much is it today? Is it really a living wage?
Chapter 4 Discussion Questions: Evaluation
- What is the author’s opinion of unions?
- What position does Walmart take on unions? How to they argue against them?
- What do you think is the Catholic Church’s position on unions?