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Award-winning political essayist and social commentator Barbara Ehrenreich will give a keynote speech for Women’s History Month and participate in a roundtable discussion today as the 2002-03 Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Visiting Lecturer.

Ehrenreich will give a talk on themes from her recent book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America at 8 p.m. in the Williams Center for the Arts. A public reception in the lobby will follow. She also will be featured in a roundtable discussion and talk about her life as a journalist and social commentator 4:10 p.m. in the Wilson Room of Pfenning Alumni Center.

Free and open to the public, the events are part of Lafayette’s celebration of Women’s History Month.

A chapter of Nickel and Dimed that appeared in Harper’s received a Sydney Hillman Award for Journalism. Those articles generated so much mail that the magazine created a special section to accommodate them.

The book chronicles Ehrenreich’s research on how people live on the wages paid for unskilled labor and, specifically, how women forced into the job market by welfare reform try to survive on the $6- to $7-an-hour jobs generally available to them. To investigate this, Ehrenreich set aside her education and reputation for a period, passing herself off as a divorced homemaker re-entering the work force, as she tried to make ends meet solely by working jobs such as waitress, maid, nursing-home worker, and Wal-Mart retail worker.

“In one poll, 94% of Americans said that they believe, if you work, you should make enough to live on,” says Ehrenreich. “This is a notion that is basic to American values — I’d even say it’s part of our social contract. Now we have to make it a reality.

“Something is wrong, very wrong, when a single person in good health, a person who in addition possesses a working car, can barely support herself by the sweat of her brow. You don’t need a degree in economics to see that wages are too low and rents too high.”

Ehrenreich’s articles have appeared in a diverse range of national publications, including Time Magazine, New York Times Magazine, Washington Post Magazine, Ms., Esquire, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, The Nation, The Progressive, The New Republic, Social Policy, Mother Jones, Mirabella and more.

She has also written the books Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War; The Worst Years of Our Lives: Irreverent Notes from The Decade of Greed; Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class; The Snarling Citizen; The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment; The American Health Empire; Witches, Midwives and Nurses; For Her Own Good; Re-Making Love; The Mean Season: The Attack on Social Welfare; and a novel, Kipper’s Game.

Ehrenreich has appeared on “Good Morning America,” “Today,” and “Charlie Rose,” among other television programs. She has been the recipient of numerous grants, fellowships, and awards, including a Ford Foundation Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

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