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On (Not) Getting by in America: Economic Order and Poverty in the U.S. Essay

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Updated: Feb 22nd, 2022

Introduction

Everyone dreams of living the American dream. In fact, America is one of the most envied nations in the world. Its constitution, way of life, and the opportunities it offers to its people are favorable. No wonder it is the world super power and has resources to marshal troops in various stations throughout the world.

In addition, it protects the interest of its citizens and even citizens of other countries out of good will. Countries cannot manage such status without adequate resources. It is for this reason that everyone wants to set his or her foot in the United States.

The country is sometimes described as a land of opportunity and freedom, where anyone willing to work hard can get ahead and make a comfortable life for them and their family. In other words, if someone becomes poor in the United States, then this is usually pegged on his/her own shortcomings. This, paper will review these claims with reference to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, On (Not) Getting By in America. It will also endeavor to relate Ehrenreich’s experiences with the same claims (Ehrenreich 42).

Nickel and Dimed, On (Not) Getting By in America

This is a story by Barbara Ehrenreich on how she tries to relate expenses to earnings for a minimum wage worker. Ehrenreich explores how Americans that earn the lowest wages survive in a country where they form the largest sector.

To ensure that her writings are non-factious and provides the best case scenario, Ehrenreich decides to try this by herself. She does this in an effort to present the plight of most workers throughout United States. In fact, according to her, these conditions are unlivable and can be referred to as another form of servant class (although not official).

Throughout her story, Ehrenreich poses a hypothetical question regarding survival concerns that face many Americans working on minimum wages. These include expenses that permanently exceed their income, and wants that cannot be met. Ultimately, the desire to live a better life knocks every day. In this regards she takes the unusual role of an undercover, trying to make ends meet through lower class struggles. In addition, she does it in three different states.

Ehrenreich decided to do an inside report after her lunch with Lewis Lapham. In her assignment, Ehrenreich hopes to survive on a minimum wage job for one month, which includes paying for her rent and transport.

In essence, she tries to find out if minimum wages can match expenses at the end of the month. This proves unsuccessful in all her three attempts. At first, the people around her try to discourage the option of actually moving to the level of low class lifestyle. However, out of her misgivings, she decides to go through the actual hardship.

He first month starts in Florida, which is very close to her home. Here, she finds rooms to be expensive in Key West and opts to move 30 miles away. She then finds a job as a waitress, but the wages are inadequate, so she decides to add another job to this by becoming a maid. Handling the two jobs becomes tiresome and demanding physically. She therefore fails in her first assignment.

In her second assignment, Ehrenreich goes to Maine, where she finds it difficult to survive again. Some of the reasons being, she could not survive on one job. This meant that she had to do one or more jobs for sustainability. The jobs she found in Maine were house cleaning and nursing-home aide.

In addition, these jobs were physically demanding, and for that reason, she had to quite Maine too. The last assignment took her to Minnesota, where she was quite lucky to find a job as a Wall-Mart salesperson. It is through these experiences that she found out that jobs considered as lowliest also exhaust peoples’ physical and mental efforts. Moreover, she found out that one needed not only one, but also two or more jobs to survive under a roof (Ehrenreich 2).

What do Ehrenreich’s experiences say about these claims?

These claims are completely rubbished by Ehrenreich’s experiences. In fact, the mere fact that a single job cannot sustain one makes it even more difficult for people to believe that this is manageable. In essence, speaking exclusively for the low income group, hard work, in accordance with Ehrenreich’s experiences, would not guarantee a rise from poverty.

In fact, several indications point out to the fact that these groups would remain in the same situation for the rest of their lives. To this extent, it is possible to concur with Ehrenreich that these conditions are unlivable and can be referred to as another form of servant class.

What obstacles do people at the bottom of the economic order face?

There are several reasons that can peg one in his financial state for the rest of his or her life. These include laziness, personal content, inadequate opportunities, capping, which may be introduced through minimum wages, among others.

In this book, more emphasis is put on work related obstacles such as the minimum wage that is inadequate for survival, working conditions as well as inadequate opportunities for further growth, among others. In essence, just as Ehrenreich calls it, these conditions are unlivable and can be referred to as another form of servant class (although not official). This makes it look like a form of capping that ensures they remain poor forever.

How has poverty become not a temporary but a permanent condition for many Americans?

Under these conditions of work, with poor transportation facilities and healthcare resources, people are unable to live healthy lives. In fact, all they earn are consumed without much left to plan with for their future.

Consequently, they have to struggle to survive. No wonder, the government has various mechanisms for providing subsidies to families and individuals to help sustain them. Essentially, with such conditions of works, people are poised to remain poor throughout their lives (Ehrenreich 12).

Conclusion

It is known that America is a land of opportunity and freedom, where anyone willing to work hard can get ahead and make a comfortable life for them and their family. In other words, if someone becomes poor in the United States, then this is usually pegged on his/her own shortcomings.

This may be true to different classes of economy, but definitely untrue when it comes to the minimum wage workers. Earnings of between $6 and $7 per hour are quite inadequate as compared to their monthly needs and expenses. In essence, they have to survive by doing more than one job. These claims are therefore untrue when implied for low class economies (Ehrenreich 22).

Work Cited

Ehrenreich, Barbara. “Nickel and Dimed, On (Not) Getting By in America”. Holt Paperbacks, 2008.

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IvyPanda. (2022, February 22). On (Not) Getting by in America: Economic Order and Poverty in the U.S. https://ivypanda.com/essays/american-history-9/

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IvyPanda. (2022, February 22). On (Not) Getting by in America: Economic Order and Poverty in the U.S. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/american-history-9/

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"On (Not) Getting by in America: Economic Order and Poverty in the U.S." IvyPanda, 22 Feb. 2022, ivypanda.com/essays/american-history-9/.

1. IvyPanda. "On (Not) Getting by in America: Economic Order and Poverty in the U.S." February 22, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/american-history-9/.


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IvyPanda. "On (Not) Getting by in America: Economic Order and Poverty in the U.S." February 22, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/american-history-9/.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "On (Not) Getting by in America: Economic Order and Poverty in the U.S." February 22, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/american-history-9/.

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IvyPanda. (2022) 'On (Not) Getting by in America: Economic Order and Poverty in the U.S'. 22 February.

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