Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America In the thought provoking novel, Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich explores the life of low-wage workers in America’s society. While speaking with an editor one day, the question of poverty and how American’s survive off six and seven dollars an hour played in Ms. Ehrenreich’s mind. So as a journalist, Ehrenreich goes undercover working several minimum wage jobs and tries to survive off the earnings. Seeing and living the lives of these poverty-stricken workers, Ehrenreich learns that hard work doesn’t always lead to success and advancement in today’s society.
This novel takes you on a journey, revealing the insights of how people strive to survive in America’s society working minimum wage jobs that do not suffice adequate funds to cover their needs and expenses. Ehrenreich begins her research in Key West, Florida. Her first task was to find a place to live. She opts out of her decision to leave in a convenient and affordable apartment for a five hundred dollar a month efficiency that is about forty-five minutes away from the employment opportunities Key West has to offer. Her next task was job searching.
Ehrenreich applied for numerous jobs, and learns about the low-wage job application process. These job applications usually just involved several multiple-choice questions and a urine test. After not hear back from any of the jobs, Ehrenreich applies for a waitressing position at the diner “Hearthside,” (which is not the actual name as well as the names of associates she comes in contact with). Ehrenreich is offered the position of a waitress and is hired at Hearthside and works the night shift working from 2:00 in the evening until 10:00 at night for $2. 43 an hour, plus tips.
If a person strives to make means off six and seven dollars an hour, surely $2. 43 is not sufficed, especially when customers do not like tip the waitress. During her time at Hearthside, Ehrenreich comes to despise management. She finds that while she must constantly find busy work to do, anything at all but being still, while her superiors are able to sit for hours. Management lacks the compassion for their employees and for their customers. They have only one concern in mind and that is make sure the restaurant makes money. I’ve personally experienced this on my job.
Sometimes there is absolutely nothing else to do at work. Why? There is one simple answer; everything has already taken care of and much more. But, management will hassle you to keep busy even when there is nothing else to do. Once Ehrenreich gets a feel for the job, she begins interacting with her co-workers and learns of their poverty lifestyle. Her observation also revealed that most of the workers were minorities. Ehrenreich then begins to compiles a survey on the workers living arrangements: Gail, whom she becomes close to, shares a room with a roommate for $250 a week. Ehrenreich p. 24) Now if you access the situation and do a few calculations you can realize that Gail is strictly living paycheck to paycheck. Claude, a cook, lives in a two room apartment with his girlfriend and two other people. Others are paying to stay in hotels each night, some pay $170 dollars a week for a one person trailer, and others are living out their cars. Ehrenreich soon realizes that unless she wants to live out of her car she needs to find another job. She picks up a second waitressing job at Jerry’s. Ehrenreich comes to find out that Jerry’s is a ruin.
The kitchens are a mess, the bathrooms are never adequately equipped, and there is no break room because breaks are hardly allowed. Ehrenreich is unable to juggle working at both the Hearthside and Jerry’s, so she leaves Hearthside so she can earn more money at Jerry’s. Ehrenreich is able to find a small trailer in a trailer park and moves closer to Key West. After a month of waitressing, Ehrenreich gets a housekeeping position in a hotel which pays $6. 10 an hour. Unfortunately Ehrenreich only lasts on the job for one day.
After having a miserable days work at Jerry’s, Ehrenreich quits the job by simply walking out. Ehrenreich turns her trailer over to Gail and says goodbye to Key West. After departing Key West, Ehrenreich travels to two other states, Maine and Minnesota, in hope of finding better jobs as well as better pay. In the final chapter, Ehrenreich evaluates her observations and provides an overall study of her project and draws together her conclusions. She believes she has done a good job living under these certain circumstance.
These observations open ones eye to how many people in the United States, not just the World, who are leaving in such poor conditions. An abundance of individuals do not realize the poverty that’s occurring at home (U. S. ). We usually think of third world countries (i. e. Africa). Volunteering my time at the community market has helped me realize how many people need assistance and who are leaving in conditions that are considered to most people as degrading. I know how hard it is to live of the earnings I make. My earnings approximate around nine dollars an hour and even with these ages it is hard to survive. You have startup costs, deposits, power bills, water bills, food, telephone bills, car notes, etc… the list goes on and on. It is difficult to even live off of halfway decent wages yet alone minimum wages of six dollars an hour. Gas prices nowadays, are about two-thirds of the wage amount. I feel honored and privileged to be able to volunteer my time to such activities and organizations as the community market and the community garden. It gives me assurance that I can help make a difference in my community and society.
I hope that more people would become aware of these activities and help contribute their time to help cease starvation and poverty in the world. Ehrenreich does an excellent job of revealing the inadequate wage conditions of society. Her plan was to reveal and understand the everyday life of low-income people, how they survive on a daily basis and find out what wage workers really go through. Most people don’t know what is next for them or what the next day has in store for them. But the final conclusion is that low-wage lifestyle is unfair and impractical.
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