BARBARA EHRENREICH holds a PhD in cell biology but became a journalist and an activist after working with a nonprofit organization to improve public access to health care. She is the author of Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream (2006), Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything (2014), and many more books. This piece is a chapter from her 2001 book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, a memoir of her experiences working—and living on minimum wages—as a waitress, as a hotel maid, and in other service jobs.