Many Americans take comfort and convenience for granted. We eat at nice restaurants, order groceries online, and hire nannies to care for kids.
Getting Me Cheap is a riveting portrait of the lives of the low-wage workers—primarily women—who make this lifestyle possible. Sociologists Lisa Dodson and Amanda Freeman follow women in the food, health care, home care, and other low-wage industries as they struggle to balance mothering with bad jobs and without public aid. While these women tend to the needs of well-off families, their own children frequently step into premature adult roles, providing care for siblings and aging family members.
In Getting Me Cheap: How Low-Wage Work Traps Women and Children in Poverty (November 29, 2022, $27.99), sociologists Lisa Dodson and Amanda Freeman spent over a decade talking to low-wage workers. Based on years of in-depth field work and hundreds of eye-opening interviews, Getting Me Cheap explores how America traps millions of women and their children into lives of stunted opportunity and poverty in service of giving others of us the lives we seek. Destined to rank with works like Evicted and Nickle and Dimed for its revelatory glimpse into how our society functions behind the scenes, Getting Me Cheap also offers a way forward—with both policy solutions and a keen moral vision for organizing women across class lines.
Getting Me Cheap is essential for readers of Barbara Ehrenreich, Arlie Hochschild, Sophie Lewis, Kathi Weeks, and anyone with an interest in equality, feminism and labor.
“This empathetic and eye-opening study leaves a mark.” —Publishers Weekly
“This formidable book insists we face the harm of wage poverty in women’s lives and see the real costs of relying on their cheap labor. The powerful stories of mothers’ determination to care for their children become a courageous call for solidarity and collective action.” —Ellen Bravo, activist and author of Standing Up: Tales of Struggle
“The United States has the highest percentage of low-wage workers of any country in the OECD aside from Lithuania—a disproportionate number of them women who provide services to better-off families. Freeman and Dobson take us inside their lives to reveal the price they and their families pay for the cheap labor they provide to others.” —Stephanie Coontz, author of The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap
“An insightful book that shines light on issues that should be better understood by any responsible citizen.” —Kirkus Reviews
“An urgent exposé and exploration of one of our most pressing social problems—hidden in plain sight. A must-read for anyone concerned about how to make America a more just and equal nation.” —Saru Jayaraman, president of One Fair Wage and author of One Fair Wage
“The lives that so many of us lead depend on the invisible labor of others, whose own needs are cast aside by our society. This brilliant book moves those essential workers—so many of them mothers—into the light” —Michael Eric Dyson, New York Times bestselling author of Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America
“The stories shared in this volume speak for themselves, spotlighting the frustrations, needs, and hopes of the women featured.” —Library Journal
In 2019, before the pandemic, the Brookings Institution released a report describing the low-wage workforce: the roughly 53 million Americans making an average of $10.22 an hour, or essentially poverty incomes. This is the part of the U.S. labor market disproportionately relegated to women, Black, Latinx, and immigrant workers. Over the two years that followed, as the pandemic unfolded, it was clear these same women would be the workers who suffered the most. Jerome Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve, put it like this, in the spring of 2020: “The people getting hurt the worst are . . . the lowest paid people. It’s women to an extraordinary extent.”
At the time Powell made that statement, we had been listening to low-wage moms for years. So we were not surprised that the pandemic took the most from those who could least afford it. This is not new. Low-wage women work in food services, as grocery clerks and in retail sales; as cleaners and child-care workers; and in the rapidly expanding market for home health–, elder-, and personal-care work. The nation’s back-water jobs are largely filled by women—and disproportionately by Black and Brown women. While raising more than half of all kids in America, these women provide the services that higher-income people rely on to manage career and family demands. They work to uphold the comfort and well-being of the affluent but are left to care for their own children and families on poverty earnings.
As one woman put it to us years ago, “They get me cheap.”
This book is guided by the concerns and values that low-income women emphasized and circled back to repeatedly in our conversations with them. It is not a linear story or one molded by current partisan debates. Instead, it mirrors the lives these women described to us, multitasking and shape-shifting above all, to be there for their kids. We heard how they changed jobs, went back to school, joined the armed services, made residential moves, and at times sought public aid to supplement poverty pay. Across states and over the years, one thing never changed. Motherhood and kids always remained at the center of their lives.
About the Authors:
Amanda Freeman is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Hartford and a writer and researcher of motherhood and work. She lives in Westport, Connecticut, and Getting Me Cheap (The New Press) is her first book.
Lisa Dodson is Research Professor Emerita at Boston College. She is the author of The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy and co-author (with Amanda Freeman) of Getting Me Cheap: How Low Wage Work Traps Women and Girls in Poverty (both from The New Press) and Don’t Call Us Out of Name. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
Getting Me Cheap: How Low-Wage Work Traps Women and Children in Poverty will be released on November 29, 2022, published by The New Press. It is currently available for pre-sale. To learn more, go to https://thenewpress.com/books/getting-me-cheap