Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty-level wages. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job -- any job -- can be the ticket to a better life.
But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour?
"They induced my labor because it was late in the evening and the doctor wanted to go home. The experience made me a feminist." After completing her doctorate, Ehrenreich did not pursue a career in science.
Instead, she worked first as an analyst with the Bureau of the Budget in New York City and with the Health Policy Advisory Center, and later as an assistant professor at the State University of New York at Old Westbury.
Throughout her career, Ehrenreich has worked as a freelance writer, and she is arguably best known for her non-fiction reportage, book reviews and social commentary.
Her reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, Mother Jones, The Nation, The New Republic, the Los Angeles Times Book Review supplement, Vogue, Salon.com, TV Guide, Mirabella and American Film.
She has been a fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Institute for Policy Studies, and the New York-based Society of American Historians.
Filling in for a vacationing Thomas Friedman as a columnist with The New York Times in 2004, Ehrenreich wrote about how, in the fight for women's reproductive rights, "it's the women who shrink from acknowledging their own abortions who really irk me," and said that she herself "had two abortions during my all-too-fertile years." In her 1990 book of essays The Worst Years of Our Lives, she wrote that "the one regret I have about my own abortions is that they cost money that might otherwise have been spent on something more pleasurable, like taking the kids to movies and theme parks." In 2006, Ehrenreich founded United Professionals, an organization described as "a nonprofit, non-partisan membership organization for white-collar workers, regardless of profession or employment status.
She lived in trailer parks and crumbling residential motels.
Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly "unskilled," that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort.