USC Upstate News

USC Upstate Freshmen to Read Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich

08- 14- 2009

Spartanburg, S.C. - University of South Carolina Upstate first-year students will be reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed in English 101 this school year. Ehrenreich wrote the book about going undercover and working at minimum wage jobs and trying to survive on those wages for a month. The book deals with laws that govern the working class, attitudes toward those who hold low-wage positions, and the way life’s challenges are handled by those working at low-wage jobs.

The author begins her journey as a diner waitress in Florida, and then gets a second job at the hotel as a maid. She quits the job at the hotel after a day and then quits her job as a waitress after two weeks.  Her next voyage takes her to Maine where she takes a job with a housekeeping service.  She gets a second job as a dietary aide in a nursing home. She becomes overwhelmed at the nursing home because she ends up taking care of all the patients on her floor. After her time in Maine, she goes to Minnesota where she obtains a job in the women’s department at Wal-Mart.  After all her research is complete, she says the key to helping people with minimum jobs is to pay the workers more money.

USC Upstate's first-year book program, called Preface, combines academic coursework with extracurricular activities to create a meaningful social and educational experience for all USC Upstate first-year students. 

English professor George Williams says, “The faculty chose this book for several reasons.  First, Ehrenreich is a well-known and widely published author who writes in a style accessible to students. It also doesn't hurt that she weaves a clear, research-based argument through her narrative because this is something we try to teach students to do well in their own writing. And even though the book was published in 2001, the current economic situation in America makes it a timely choice.”

There will activities for students to come together to discuss the book including a visit from the author on September 17.  On September 30 there will be a board game marathon from 6:00-8:00 pm in the Campus Life Center Ballroom. On October 12, in the CLC from 6:00-8:00 p.m. students and instructors will discuss the book.  There will be a game show in the CLC ballroom on October 22 from 5:00-8:00 pm.  The last of the activities will be a student led conference in the CLC ballroom on November 10 from 6:00-8:00 pm.

Williams adds, "It's great that, more than any Preface book we've selected before, we can supplement the print reading and on-campus activities with online resources--such as YouTube videos, podcasts, and blog entries from such sources as the New York Times--that are directly connected to the book and to its author."

Asked about how students might be changed by reading Ehrenreich's book, Williams said, “I really hope that even after they've finished their first semester at school and are done with Preface, students continue to think about the larger social structures--economic or otherwise--that affect individual experience. Readers don't have to agree with Ehrenreich's conclusions to be made aware of the fact that these larger social structures exist and that we should be talking about how we want them to work.”

For more information on the Preface program or events planned around the reading of the book, contact George Williams at, call (864)503-5285 or visit