Nickel and Dimed is a non-fiction book written by Barbara Ehrenreich. It's written from her perspective and investigates the effects of the 1996 welfare reform act on low-income workers in the United States.
The events depicted within the book take place between 1998 and 2000, as she travels between Florida and Minnesota. Working as an undercover journalist, Barbara Ehrenreich paraded as an unskilled worker to see what effect the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 truly had on so-called unskilled employees. This act implied that working any full-time job, even if it was low paid, would help provide a better life for individuals and their families.
Her inspiration for the book was the welfare reform and wondering what type of effect it really had. To find out if it was possible to survive, and maybe even prosper, on a $6 per hour job, Ehrenreich documents her leaving home, paying for the cheapest accommodation, and pretending to be an unskilled homemaker wishing to find work.
The book records her experiences working as a waitress, hotel maid, cleaner, nursing home employee and sales clerk at Walmart. It also spends a lot of time focusing on the meager choices of accommodation available to low-paid workers including residential motels and trailer parks.
Ehrenreich's conclusion is that no job could be truly classified as unskilled because even the lowest paid occupations often require large amounts of physical effort or mental effort, both of which are draining. She also concluded that working just one job isn't enough to rise above the poverty level.