Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, is a firsthand account of life in low-wage America. Instead of listening to the perspectives of other workers, the author herself gave up her middle-class comforts and assumed the role of a minimum-wage worker in America to experience the daily hardships they go through.
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Residing in trailer parks and deteriorating residential motels, she tried several jobs in different states in the United States. Spurred on by the 1996 welfare reform on the situation of the “working poor” in the country, the essayist and social critic set out to investigate how the underpaid try to eke out a living from their meager wages.
Written in the context of an undercover reporter, the book addresses a number of social issues that the underpaid American workers face. The author had everything she wanted. She left her decent way of living in order to start a journey of discovering the sobering realities that most workers endure.
She had the merit of having an advanced level of education, private health insurance, no debt, good health, and some cash to start the new life; however, she had to work two jobs at a time in order to maintain her meager existence. Ehrenreich spent approximately three months in 1999 and 2000 working minimum-wage jobs in different states across the U.S. To maintain an acceptable lifestyle, she struggled to keep her expenses as minimum as possible. As much as she had only herself to manage, she was struggling to make ends meet.
She found it difficult to decide on what to buy and what not to buy, for instance, between a new belt and a pair of pants. She was concerned about her security as a single female residing in the sub-par places of residence throughout her unbelievable journey. Because of her jobs’ taxing physical requirements, she was worried about her worsening state of health that could make her unable to meet the standards of her demanding bosses.
Nickel and Dimed gives a big insight on the life of the American workers. Ehrenreich, peculiar and realistic way of writing illustrates America’s wage inequalities without disregarding the underpaid workers.
She gracefully comes up with the characters at every job and location. The stories she gives so as to accomplish her mission of bringing to the fore the plight of the low wage earners are touching. Ehrenreich’s undercover reporting could easily be a series of depressing episodes. However, the superb and frightening look into the lives of low-wage earners is funny and thought provoking.
The book highlights several of the problems that the hardworking Americans face on a daily basis. The valuable and illuminating book attacks the “a job will end poverty” ideology held by traditionalists by illustrating interesting points concerning the costs of rent, unfair treatment of employees, labor unions, as well as the computation of the “living wage” in America.
She points out that the “hidden costs”, such as the costs of necessities as shelter and food, add to the problems of the individuals who work on low wages. Throughout her voyage, the author experienced remarkable acts of kindness from the people she was working with, who were also struggling to make ends meet with their meager wages.
Foremost, the author goes contrary to the commonly held belief that low-wage jobs do not require any skill to accomplish. Ehrenreich, a successful writer with a Ph.D. degree, discovered that blue-collar employment is demanding, not interesting, and demeaning. The author articulates that the jobs needed excellent feat of endurance and the ability to capture concepts faster.
The workers are often susceptible of getting cumulative trauma disorder (CT) because of the repetitive tasks and movement that they have to endure so as to avoid getting sacked. She found out that some chores, such as cleaning the toilet and sorting out of shirts, are both humiliating and unappealing.
The author also points out that the duties of the people in management positions only serve to add to the problems of the workers on minimum wage. This is because they impede the productivity of the workforce and compel the workers to carry out futile duties.
She reasons that numerous “personality” experiments and feedback forms designed to monitor the performance of the workers only serve the purpose of discouraging potential applicants whereas they do not have any tangible influence on the improvement of the performance of the employees.
To support her assertions, Ehrenreich uses several footnotes having different facts and references. This reinforces her theory that the people working on minimum wage in the United States are not receiving adequate payments for the services they provide. As the author’s experiences clearly indicate, the condition of the average workers in the United States needs urgent attention. She concludes by saying that one day, the average workers will demand fair treatment, and when that day arrives, their struggles will end.