Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

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Barbara Ehrenreich began her research to explore how people attempting to move from welfare to work are managing—if at all. This exploration also extended to those who are apart of the working class and having not been on welfare. Attempting to place herself in the position of her subjects, Ehrenreich strived to see if she were able to survive on the minimal income provided by a series of low level and low paying jobs. In was her foreknowledge of laws and the inclusion of these laws in Nickel and Dimed that brought about exposing historical and present-day 21st century contradictory practices, laws, and regulations that exploit the poor working class (if not through her experiment but by the subjects’ honest experience). In addition to exposing this existing institutionalized discrimination, whether unconsciously or consciously, Ehrenreich demonstrates with her approach the severe state of class and racial segregation as it pertains to what jobs are available and to whom and what kind of lives are produced in such a class divided American society.

Consequently, Ehrenreich’s method does not come without any flaws. It can be argued that when trying to place herself in the shoes of her subjects, she possessed some essential advantages that the average poor working class citizen simply do not have such as her level of educational attainment, White privilege regardless of her class status, and start-off funds that allowed her both the mobility and comfort of surviving. This inevitable comfort reminded her of the obvious fact that her participation in the poor working class was strictly “temporary”; thus, relieving her of the honest stresses and worry that plagues the poor working class—stresses and worries that often times leads to a battle with survival and can result in behavior that is often not analyzed but categorized; deeming a person (or a group of individuals) as “criminals” rather than people who are trying to adapt to- and endure the unequal access to wealth in a world where there are particular citizens who are excluded from the American society and left to find alternative ways to survive.

Books Historical Relevance

It is known that the American society and its relationship with capitalistic processes have resulted in a severe state of class separation. Unfortunately, seeming as how America had not yet finished her battles as they pertain to race relations; class then, is not the only issue of the 21st Century but rather both class and race. A counter argument would be that it now being the 21st century with President Barack Obama in office that America has somehow miraculously reached a state of a “post-racial” society. This is definitely not the case. Conducting her experiment in 1998 through the turn of the century in 2000, Ehrenreich entered this working class lifestyle at a time where the economy and opportunities were thought of as accessible to anyone. Converting a article into a full-blown book at the suggestion of her previous book publisher in 2001, Nickel and Dimed seemed to possess quality emergence journalism insight—Ehrenreich even receiving praise for her contribution. Getting further into the book, unfortunately, Ehrenreich’s journalistic approach left readers with many gaps. Even with having experience with being a journalist, this experiment lacked crucial personal interactions with her subjects and often times her attempt at positioning herself in the working class becomes deluded.

With crucial interactions with her subjects missing—a requirement that later sacrificed any possibility of her research giving any true insight of the lives of the working class—Ehrenreich was left to talk more about herself. Not stepping out of the comfort of the work place and her living quarters, Ehrenreich was not able to examine co-workers on a personal level with the exception of a few whom she describes having conversations with but never stepping fully into their worlds. For...
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