Nickle and Dimed Play Debuts in Atlanta, Living Wage Discussed on Panel


(APN) ATLANTA – Dozens of Atlanta’s leftists gathered for a preview of the stage version of Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, “Nickled and Dimed,” this evening, which was preceded by a panel discussion at The Five Spot on the living wage crisis.

The play here was put together by the Seven Stages theatrical group.

“I am just thrilled to go into another medium!” Barbara Ehrenreich told Atlanta Progressive News. “I like it. It’s funny. It’s fast moving. It does things the book can’t do [like] let the other characters speak.”

Several years since the book documented the impossibilities faced by workers and working families in America, the federal minimum wage has still remained stagnant.

This, panelists said, is the great moral crisis facing our country.

“We’re saying a system where 30% of the work force earn less than they need to live on, this is the scandal,” Ehrenreich said.

“Morality is not just something that starts at the waist and goes down. It’s not just about abortion and gay marriage,” Ehrenreich said.

“When I started working on the research for Nickled and Dimed, the overwhelming belief is that poverty is caused by certain character failings, bad choices, drinking, a promiscuous lifestyle. This was clear in the motives that went into welfare reform. In fact, it’s caused by a lack of money, that I’m still trying to get across,” Ehrenreich said.

“A living wage movement is happening all over. 7 states have raised their wages, as have over 130 cities,” Ehrenreich said.

Living wages “should be the prevailing issue this year in the campaign [season],” Sandra Robertson, one of the founders of the Georgia Living Wage Coalition, said.

A shocking statistic was revealed in the panel: “Forty to sixty percent of the homeless work, who are living in shelters,” Anita Beaty, 64, Executive Director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, said.

“That’s changed over the last 20 years. In the early days, the prevailing reason was they’d lost jobs. Now, they’re paying 70% of their income on housing the month that they lose their housing,” Beaty said.

The federal standards used by HUD state no more than 30% of one’s income should be spent on housing. A worker would need to earn $15.75 per hour in order to afford a two bedroom apartment, Beaty said.

“If you pay your workers less than that, where do you expect them to live?” Beaty exclaimed.

“You wouldn’t believe, a group that starts with United [United Way] lobbied behind the scenes,” for the state legislature in Georgia to prevent a living wage from being allowed to be required in Atlanta, Beaty said.

Organizers in Atlanta, led by Sandra Robertson, 58, thought they had successfully won a living wage in Atlanta, when it was approved by the City Council. Then, the Georgia State Legislature preempted the wage from taking effect, however.

“It started out in 2001, with Project South and others to look at this issue of wages. We did about two and a half years of really good research work and talking to public officials to convince our public officials that it’s a solid policy,” Robertson said.

“We got the support of all Councilmembers but two. The city adopted a policy of giving its employees living wages, at least $10.50 an hour plus health care,” Robertson said, adding that a $10.50 living wage for all employers had passed Atlanta City Council. $10.50 isn’t a living wage, but it’s much closer than $5.15.

Delta Airlines and the Chamber of Commerce supported State Senator Earl Earhardt in introducing legislation to preempt Atlanta from being able to pass a living wage, which passed, Robertson said.

“We have a real battle on our hands,” Robertson said.

Some Atlanta City Council Members who supported a living wage bill in Atlanta, also supported the state’s preemption of that state bill, Beaty said. “They were having it both ways.”

Terence Courtney of the Atlanta Transit Riders Union (ATRU), and Jobs with Justice (JWJ), spoke about the need for better mass transit. Courtney and the Riders Union was featured in a previous article in Atlanta Progressive News.

“We believe the way to get living wages is to organize and empower the people affected by this,” Courtney said.

Bobbie Paul, Executive Director of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), spoke of the national federal budget.

More than half of the US annual budget is defense spending on the Pentagon, she said.

People really get the magnitude of it when she breaks down the numbers to them, Paul told Atlanta Progressive News.

“If a dollar was a second, a million seconds was last week. A billion seconds was 1976. And a trillion seconds was pre-Christ,” Paul said in the panel.

“What do you spend your money on?” Paul asked the audience. Food, housing, fuel, they said. “Do you spend it on AK-47’s?”

Paul also spoke of the need for the various organizations in the progressive movement to unite. “We need to weave our tapestries together,” Paul said.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the Editor of Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at

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