Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Barbara Ehrenreich in 2018

Writer and journalist Barbara Ehrenreich is awarded the Erasmus Prize on November 27, 2018 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo: Patrick van Katwijk/WireImage)

'Honor Her Memory... by Fighting Like Hell': Barbara Ehrenreich Dies at 81

"We've lost a gifted writer and a relentless fighter for the working class," said one admirer of the journalist, author, and labor rights champion.

Julia Conley

Barbara Ehrenreich, whose books about economic inequality include Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch, and Fear of Falling, died on Thursday, September 1 at the age of 81.

Her death was announced on Twitter by her son, Ben Ehrenreich, and daughter, Rosa Brooks.

"She was never much for thoughts and prayers, but you can honor her memory by loving one another, and by fighting like hell," Ben Ehrenreich wrote.

Ehrenreich wrote on her personal website that she went through a "political, as well as a personal, transformation" in 1970 when she gave birth to her first child in a public health clinic in New York where she was "the only white patient at the clinic" and learned how many poor women are treated when seeking healthcare.

"They induced my labor because it was late in the evening and the doctor wanted to go home," she later said. "I was enraged. The experience made me a feminist."

"I have never seen a conflict between journalism and activism. As a journalist, I search for the truth. But as a moral person, I am also obliged to do something about it."

She wrote columns for Ms. and Mother Jones and published several books about the healthcare industry, feminism, and the economy before writing one of her best-known works, Nickel and Dimed, an examination of the working poor in the United States.

Ehrenreich took low-wage jobs at a restaurant, a cleaning service, and Walmart between 1998 and 2000 and experienced firsthand the struggles faced by millions of Americans attempting to afford housing, groceries, and other necessities while earning minimum wage at corporations headed by wealthy executives.

"The 'working poor,' as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society," Ehrenreich wrote in the book.

In a review of the book, The New York Times said Nickel and Dimed helped solidify Ehrenreich as "our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism."

"We have Barbara Ehrenreich to thank for bringing us the news of America's working poor so clearly and directly, and conveying with it a deep moral outrage and a finely textured sense of lives as lived," Dorothy Gallagher wrote for the Times.

In some of her other books Ehrenreich delved into the shrinking of the U.S. middle class, the history of communal celebrations, and Americans' "obsession with wellness" and the prolonging of life.

"We've lost a gifted writer and a relentless fighter for the working class," said progressive organizer Aaron Huertas.

Ehrenreich also established the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, which supports independent journalists editorially and financially.

"I have never seen a conflict between journalism and activism," she wrote at her personal website. "As a journalist, I search for the truth. But as a moral person, I am also obliged to do something about it."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Groups Warn SCOTUS May Gut 'Foundational' Digital Rights Law

"Weakening Section 230 would be catastrophic—disproportionately silencing and endangering marginalized communities," said one campaigner.

Jessica Corbett ·


Report Reveals How Utilities' Climate Pledges Amount to 'Textbook Greenwashing'

Despite the passage of nearly $370 billion in renewable energy funding, the nation's utilities are squandering "a massive opportunity for clean electricity and electrification."

Julia Conley ·


$158,000 Cost for ALS Treatment Called 'A Poster Child' for Unjust Drug Pricing

"The price of the newly approved drug combination Relyvrio to treat ALS," said one critic, "is yet another clear and powerful example of unjustified high prices set by drug companies that ultimately exploit patients."

Jake Johnson ·


Biden Takes 'Important First Step' With AI Bill of Rights Blueprint

While many experts welcomed the White House proposal to ensure automated systems don't erode civil liberties, others lamented the voluntary nature of what one tech writer called the "toothless" plan.

Brett Wilkins ·


Kenyan President Says 'Wind and Solar Energy Can Power the Development of Africa'

"Rather than trudging in the fossil fuel footsteps of those who went before, we can leapfrog this dirty energy and embrace the benefits of clean power," argues William Ruto.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo