Mar 07 2010
In Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America, she goes undercover to investigate necessary service jobs and what it is like living in them. She worked low-wage jobs to try to see if she could live for a few months in three different locations as a maid, waitress, and at Wal-Mart. Much of her book is about how taxing low-wage jobs were on her body. She describes how hard it was to find jobs and how many stores leave up “Help Wanted” signs even if there is no shortage of labor. One of the biggest problems she describes that faces low-income people working these jobs is fact that there are so many people vying for them. This excess of labor means that exploiting workers is easy, because employees are constantly reminded that they could be fired in exchange of others. As a result, changing labor conditions is almost impossible.
While discussing the book in class, we talked a lot about the current state of the economy and how the situation must be even worse. My guess is that the waitresses are paid even less for even more work, maids get tipped even less, and the Wal-Mart employees are way too scared to even think of unionizing. Someone in class said “the fact that we even need unions is baffling,” and when I thought about it, this made a lot of sense. We are all humans. We’re all trying to get a job to support ourselves and our families to make a living. So, why would you exploit your workers? They’re trying to have jobs for the reasons, but they happen to have a lower socioeconomic status. It is unnecessary to do this to your fellow humans!
Over break I went to Wal-Mart to get a few groceries, and while I was there I developed a new found respect for the employees. Not only there, but also the housekeeping staff for my dorm. I wondered how many of these people are living out of cars or barely making rent. I am lucky to be able to go to college and have had a job in high school to help support myself. Even though my parents don’t support me I could have it way worse.
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