Nickel and Dimed – Book Report
America encourages the value of self-reliance to achieving one’s goals and dreams. There is a common belief that poverty can be defeated with hard work and that the poor are simply too lazy to earn a better living. The idea of self-sufficiency is the cause of controversy for welfare programs. Poor single mothers were looked down upon for having the option to be unemployed and living solely off welfare. When President Clinton’s 1996 Welfare Reform was established, people were taken out of the program and were forced into the working world. Less taxpayer money was taken out of the upper middle classes’ income, and the poor were responsible for their own living. While this may sound ideal, most low-income people are actually unable to provide for themselves in their living conditions. With a full-time minimum wage job, they can work as hard as possible and still be stuck in debt and poverty. Their low-income prevents them from improving their lives and affording basic needs such as nutrition, health care, education, and shelter. The working poor face difficulties not through their own faults but rather because of how our society functions, where wealth is gradually becoming unevenly distributed. Unfortunately, many people are unbeknownst to the stagnant and worsening living conditions when working for minimum-wage pay. In the book Nickel and
Dimed author Barbara Ehrenreich discovers the hardships of being poor when she temporarily leaves her journalistic career to work low-wage paying jobs.
Barbara’s expedition came about through a curiosity of how millions of women could maintain a living in the labor force after the 1996 Welfare Reform. She was already aware that a single mother without welfare would need “an hourly wage of $8.89 to afford a one-bedroom apartment” (pg. 3). Instead of hearing others’ stories, she decides to experience herself the difficulties faced by these poverty-stricken people by going out there and working the low-wage jobs, imagining it as a scientific experiment. Coming from an upper-middle class, with a ph. D in Biology and a well-paying desk job, she seeks to answer the question that many people like her wonder: How do minimum wage people maintain themselves? Out in the poverty world, Barbara simulates a middle-aged single woman with a high school education. Setting a few rules, such as not relying on her skills derived from her college education and taking the highest paying job offered, her goal was to find a job in various areas and maintain rent for two months. Through waitressing in Florida, cleaning houses in Maine, and working at Wal-Mart Barbara steps into the world of poverty in America.
The experiment begins in Key West, Florida, a town close to where she actually lives. After searching for affordable housing, she finds a trailer for rent and starts to look for jobs. Barbara discovers the difficulty of finding a minimum-wage job despite finding around 20 help-wanted ads and receives no response. As it turns out, the companies put up the ads not because they have a shortage of workers but rather to insure against the high turnover rate in the low-paying workforce. Eventually she is hired as a waitress at a family restaurant called Hearthside. The author receives a shift from 2:00-10:00PM for $2.43 an hour. The pay is low because employers don’t need to provide minimum wage for tipped employees according to the Fair Labor Standards Act, unless their tips do not amount to the minimum wage, then the employer must make up the difference. Working as a waitress proves to be physically demanding and strenuous for Barbara. She complains about the managers who are able to do nothing and sit around but are paid to make sure the employees are always working. She confesses to dragging out her chores to appear busy at all times and resorting to menial tasks such as redecorating the sample food. In an arranged workplace meeting, the managers scold...