Nickel and Dimed

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

by: Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich's, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, is a book that strives to change the way America perceives its working poor. Achieving the American Dream can be difficult, if not impossible for many people with stumbling blocks and obstacles along the way as portrayed in Nickel and Dimed, due to the cost of living in contrast to the wage of low or middle class earners.

Nickel and Dimed is essentially a journal of the time spent by the author, with her identity and PhD concealed, working in order to discover whether she could support a basic life style from earning minimum wage. This book shows how things such as stress in the work place, lack of proper benefits, cost of housing and how what was merely an experiment for Ehrenreich, is a real detriment for many others. In her experiment Ehrenreich finds cheap housing and works various minimum wage jobs paying between $6-$7 an hour all while assessing her findings. In working as a waitress in Florida, a maid in Maine, and a sales clerk in Minnesota, Ehrenreich soon discovers that even the "lowliest" of occupations require exhausting and strenuous efforts rewarded by a wage that barely covers living expenses and everyday costs. As a native resident to Florida, Ehrenreich doesn't venture far from home to begin research. She quickly realizes the harsh variation from her comfortable middle-class lifestyle and her new predicament. She finds work waiting tables at two restaurants and as a housekeeper working only once a week at a hotel. She experiences the invisibility of many low-wage workers when her face "goes unnoticed" in her native town (11). Similarly, her name is not usually used; when people want her attention, they use generic female condescending terms such as "blondie" or "baby" (12). Ehrenereich soon discovers that this must he the suppressive behavior received by many low-wage workers. She goes on to describe working for insensitive and arrogant managers who feed from the power of their higher positions. From her own experience, Ehrenreich learns that her work and time are not valued the same way theirs is. She and her fellow workers experience humiliation, disrespect, and indignities as managers control workers by having them spend time on unnecessary tasks, do not allow them to talk to each other, and do not trust them within the workplace. She observes how her fellow co-workers often avoid talking of money issues. They do not have enough money to lead a somewhat normal life, none the less a recreational one. They merely shun topics of conversation relating to movies or shopping or even housing situations. "It's hard to get my co-workers talking about their living situations, because housing is the principle source of disruption in their lives." "This job shows no sign of being financially viable" (25). Before luckily finding a residence in a trailer park, Ehrenreich makes the discovery that, "unless I want to start using my car as a residence, I have to find a second or alternative job" (28). She learns that if this were her actual life, she could not make ends meet on one job alone. After moving out of the trailer park, she chooses to migrate to Maine. With the majority of the people being white, she suspected that it would be easier for her to assimilate into the working poor. She becomes a dietary aid at a nearby Residential Facility and also a maid for a large corporation. With her days starting at around 4:45 am and her unexceptional pay, her days are filled with no more than work and little sleep. Unable to find cheap enough housing, she has to lodge in nearby hotels that end up being overpriced and many times unacceptable. During her employment at The Maids, Ehrenreich soon becomes taken advantage of when her breaks are even taken from her. "In my interview I has been promised a thirty-minute lunch break, but this turns out...
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