Oct 06 2014
Barbara Ehrenreich’s groundbreaking book “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America” was a wake-up call. The book paints a depressing picture of life in the American working class, and not only because Ehrenreich and her co-workers were paid minimum wage for work that was physically demanding. I was most angry with Ehrenreich’s employers. From the restaurant management who didn’t tell employees that they were entitled to compensation when tips plus their salary didn’t meet the minimum wage to the cleaning service owner who disregarded an injured maid, those in power took full advantage of the very people who were making them money. At the same time, I found the perceived association between race and poverty that “Nickel and Dimed” frequently references fascinating. When Ehrenreich applied for a housekeeping position at a hotel, she was pushed towards a waitressing job, and during her time at the restaurant, she noticed that white women were faces that customers saw while immigrants, Latinos, and African-Americans had jobs in the kitchen. There is an assumption that anyone with a job must be doing “alright,” but Ehrenreich emphasizes that those making minimum wage are barely at an “alright” standard of living.
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