The Documentary: Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and David Shipler’s The Working Poor
Chapter Two examines Barbara Ehrenreich’s trailblazing book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America (2001) and David Shipler’s The Working Poor: Invisible in America (2004), which have introduced millions of middle-class readers to a previously invisible class. The heart-wrenching life stories vicariously facilitate a cross-class encounter while implicitly shattering both the myth of the American Dream and the culture-of-poverty narrative. By applying the methodologies of literary studies, Lemke examines the use of narrative voice, humor, documentary modes, and vernacular realism in these best-selling reports, which also articulate a psychosocial critique of capitalism and a holistic approach to fighting poverty. Both exposés qualify as precarious texts in the sense that they plead for changing the conditions they describe.