Barbara Ehrenreich Comming To Campus

Dear Editor,

After looking into Barbara Ehrenreich and what the Northerner had to say, I found I had to comment. My name I Trey Orndorff and here is my editorial on the matter. I hope you can find room to use it in the paper, it would provide a nice balance from this issue.

Trey Orndorff


Emily Chalfant’s “Visiting author advocates for the working poor” (September 18) was not reporting – it was cheerleading. Chalfant claimed that “freshmen found an insightful perspective on the working poor” in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. This piece of socialist preaching was penned by radical leftist Barbara Ehrenreich. Some have rightly described her work as liberal propaganda infused with religious bigotry.

When not writing for Harper’s, Time, The Nation and New York Time Magazine, she is the Vice-Chair of the Democratic Socialists of America. Her bent toward Marxism is revealed in her book when she mentions reading Mao before going to sleep. That must produce sweet socialist dreams.

Among her other leftist credentials, Ehrenreich is a hypocrite. At an expensive luncheon Ehrenreich and an editor wondered how people live in the context of the reform of the welfare system. From this her very profitable book was born. Ehrenreich does not explain why she deserves her own wealth, why she does not dispense with her material possessions to help the working poor, nor why she attends expensive lunches. Maybe she can’t.

Her book is either shoddy scholarship or leftist propaganda. Either way, it is hardly appropriate material for First Year Programs – or any other year, for that matter.

For example, Ehrenreich alleged that she was unable to provide herself with food, clothing, and shelter while making $7/hr. According to the Commerce Department the poverty rate for a single person younger than 65 in 1999 was $8,700 per year. Barbara was earning 170 percent of that. Even the liberal Economics Policy Institute states a “living wage” is 130 percent of the poverty standard.

But Ehrenreich’s claim that government assistance is not available for people in her income bracket strains credulity. In Portland, Maine, where Ehrenreich worked, a single woman making $7.50 per hour, with two kids would qualify for Section 8 housing. A single woman in Pennsylvania earning an average of $1120 per month would qualify for food stamps and Medicaid. Those with children would qualify for “free” or subsidized daycare for their kids. These are significant handouts for those in Ehrenreich’s income bracket. Was Ehrenreich obscuring the facts? Did she fail to research her book adequately? Perhaps even our massive welfare state handouts cannot satisfy a full-fledged socialist like Ehrenreich.

A consistent thesis of Nickled and Dimed is that the poor deserve to earn more; the rich do not deserve what they earn; and the bourgeoisie are merely robots. That’s a conclusion lifted directly from Karl Marx. Perhaps Ehrenreich’s next book could deal with the earning power of those who labor in some worker’s paradise like Castro’s Marxist-Leninist Cuba.

Ehrenreich condemns the owner of the maid service who pays his workers $6 per hour while charging clients $25 per hour. Maybe her next investigative report could be about starting a maid service. After she pays for the employees, lots of taxes, insurance, licenses, bonds, marketing, and equipment, maybe she would learn what exorbitant profits are. Would they compensate her for the risk and effort of operating a company? Then again, such free-market concepts are anathema to Ehrenreich.

Speaking of over-charging, how much did Ehrenriech charge our cash-strapped university to grace us with her socialist presence?

The Northerner praise-piece reported Director of First-Year Programs Vicki Stieha saying “that ‘Nickel and Dimed’ was selected because many students can identify with the idea of trying to get by as a low-wage worker.” After hearing and reading Barbara Ehrenreich, perhaps students have also gained a little insight into trying to get by as a Marxist journalist who makes her fortune by writing books for a big corporate publisher in which she complains about the very system that made her fortune possible.

Was this really the best book First-Year Programs could come up with? Or was it just another way to shove leftist ideas uncritically down the throats of unsuspecting freshmen? Finally, which fount of socialist propaganda does First-Year Programs have lined up for next year?