When I read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, I kept thinking that surely things were not as bad as she made it seem. Ms. Ehrenreich, a college professor, decided to get by as a minimum wage worker. She describes stints at Wal-mart and how precarious things were. As an example of the things that seemed totally ridiculous: she lived in a hotel for nearly $3000/month supposedly because she couldn't come with the one month deposit of about $500 to live in an apartment.
When I came to this country, I had $700 in my pocket and nothing else. Well, not quite nothing else. I had a fellowship from Ohio State worth about $1100/month. Regardless, though, not only did I live for 1.5 years on $1100/month ... I had a couple thousand dollars in the bank when I graduated with my Masters degree. It all, I think, comes down to making somewhat intelligent choices. For example, I ate out perhaps 10 times in my months in Columbus, and I'm including fast food lunches in that total.
Looks like someone else had the same impression on reading her book. He, however, was curious enough to spend nearly a year disproving "Nickel and Dimed". Adam Shepard walked into a homeless shelter with $25. 10 months later, he had an apartment, a truck and $5000 in the bank.
To be fair to Barbara Ehrenreich, one thing about her book strikes me as particularly germane: that most poor people in America are one illness away from disaster. The cost of healthcare is the one big difference between the world she describes and the one that Adam Shepard and I encountered. We were young and healthy.