Mar 07 2010

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.

Published by at 9:50 pm under Reflection Blog

In American society, the American dream is based on average Joe’s & Jane’s working hard and rising up the class ladder and if they work hard will make enough money to live the perfect lifestyle. This is even more of a fairy-tale than Walt Disney could dream up and Barbara Ehrenreich shows us just how impossible this feat is in her book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Ehrenreich decides to go undercover and see if people and truly survive if they worked hard on minimum wage.
Ehrenreich pursues a number of jobs in Florida, Maine, and Minnesota working at a wide variety of jobs including: waitress, maid, nursing home dietary aide, and Wal-Mart employee. Ehrenreich doesn’t only learn about these jobs but gains knowledge of how the hiring and applying process goes, “I realize that the want ads are not reliable measure of the actual jobs available at any particular time. They are … the employers’ insurance policy against relentless turnover of the low-wage workforce”(15). Ehrenreich discovers that once in the job position you are so desperate for the income you will gladly take whatever work and pay that is thrown in your direction. Employers are well aware of their employee base, which makes it easier for them to exploit them. Employees at low-wage earning jobs are not likely to ask for sick leave, benefits, or raises; they are in a position of total submission knowing they are as replaceable as the items they stock on the shelves.
Ehrenreich also brings attention to the dangers of being part of this working class particularly a woman. “Poor women- perhaps especially single ones and those who are just temporarily living among the poor for whatever reason- really do have more to fear than women who have houses with double locks and alarm systems”(153). Ehrenreich book is particularly powerful in her encounters with the “real” living poor women who describe living in their car, or that stay in abusive relationships because they have no place else. Ehrenreich bust her ass right along side these women and acknowledges that at the end of the day she can’t grasp their existents just by sharing their occupation, she has the safety of knowing she can go back to her secure lifestyle and they never have that feeling of security their life is always moment-to-moment and penny-to-penny.
Ehrenreich at the of her book sums up how she did in being able to live on minimum wage; which was that she could for a time stay afloat but for the long term would have inevitably sunk. “Welfare reform, it was uniformly assumed that a job was the ticket out of poverty and that the only thing holding back welfare recipients was their reluctance to get out and get one”(196). In class we talked about how true this book is to our own experiences we have encountered. Though we all could acknowledge that there were problems with the system of minimum wage and employee exploitation there was very little solutions brought forth, which just shows how complex the subject is. One classmate mentioned having a fellow employee that could speak little English be reluctant to serve food because of being unable to speak the name properly and another worker who made $12.00 an hr and worked two jobs in order to live. We could all see how race and gender play a role in the lives of low-wage earners. I really enjoyed this book and thought it brought to light a lot of stereotypes people have about people on welfare and the lower class in general. One classmate said it seems like it is better to not work at all because you receive more government aide that way, yet it’s not enough to keep you afloat and neither is a minimum wage job with no government aide. A vicious entrapment with little hope from any break out only the motivation to keep pursuing the “American Dream.”

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