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Nickel and Dimed Term Paper


Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, describes the experiences the author went through when she forfeited her good life and went undercover so as to see for herself how it feels to work for an hourly wage of $6 to $7. Instead of simply listening to the accounts of other individuals, she decided to travel to Florida, Maine, and Minnesota, with the intention of assuming the role of a minimum wage employee.

Ehrenreich worked and lodged in every location for about a month. Although she was working full time, she found it hard to meet her needs adequately and she was often forced to do two jobs at a time to make ends meet. The author decided to go on this experiment with the intention of establishing whether the amount of money paid to low-wage workers is enough for their sustenance. Ehrenreich’s expose´ has revealed so many things to me concerning the situation of the low-wage workers in America.

Whereas the experiences that the author underwent were captivating, I did not get the feeling that she really anticipated to achieve something in her tricky experiment. However, after getting her point of view from her personal experiences, the difference between the rich and the poor has become even more apparent to me.

To start her experiment, Ehrenreich decided to go to Key West, Florida, which was near her home to try to find an employment there (Ehrenreich, 2008). Luckily, she got recruited to work as a waitress in a diner-style restaurant and found an efficiency apartment thirty miles away from the city to live in.

However, the payment she received from the job was hardly adequate to sustain her and pay for the next month’s rent. As a result, she opted for a second job at a local hotel to work as a maid. Interestingly, she was unable to cope with the two jobs. Ehrenreich then left the maid position after one day and the waitress position also became equally demanding. Therefore, she quitted the job even before the end of the month.

After departing from Florida, Ehrenreich went to Portland, Maine, where she managed to get a job with The Maids, a residential housekeeping service, and she also worked as a dietary aide in a nursing home so as to make ends meet. The two jobs forced her to work for seven days a week and she managed to stick it out until the end of the month. She found that working with The Maids was both physically demanding and paying meager wages. In addition, she felt that the work was degrading to her.

A notable experience she describes is when one of the maids got injured while performing her duties and although she unsuccessfully tried to thwart the normal operations at the residential housekeeping service, she managed to convince the management to give the injured maid a day off. Serving in the nursing home, the author found herself attending to the needs of all the patients in the whole Alzheimer’s section. And, she feared making any mistake that could cause more harm to her patients as she had little experience on the job.

The third location chosen for the experiment was Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she found it more difficult both to get an employment opportunity and a reasonably priced apartment to stay in. It was hard for her to get an apartment in the city because the vacancy rate was less than one percent.

Nonetheless, after spirited attempts, she was employed by Wal-Mart as a “softlines” worker and she found a rundown motel to stay in, which threatened her safety and proper sleep at night. Thus, to improve her conditions of living, she moved to a nicer hotel. The work at Wal-Mart was not only repetitive and monotonous, but also extremely low paying that made her to struggle in meeting her needs.

This made her to believe that the workers at the company are working themselves too hard compared to the meager wages they receive. Interestingly, when she was leaving every job in all the three locations, she never witnessed a dramatic response from the workers she revealed to that her main intention was to write a book about her experiences. The employees seemed to be caught up so much in their low paying jobs that none of them showed any interest in her candid reasons for vacating the positions.

Reading the experiences that Ehrenreich went through surprised and shocked me, as well. Importantly, it made me change my perception about the individuals in America who survive on low-wage jobs.

Although I had the opinion that individuals living in trailer apartments were finding it hard to make ends meet, I had not fully thought that they were living in deplorable conditions that even affording a trailer apartment would seem difficult. Worth mentioning, I also considered that individuals on low-wage job would be capable of meeting at least their basic needs such as adequate food and shelter.

However, reading the book immediately opened my eyes concerning how much those on minimum wage work so hard to afford the basic items, not mentioning the luxuries. Nickel and Dimed reveals this problem through the experiences that the author went through in different locations in the United States.

The astounding expose´ that the author makes has changed my opinion regarding a number of social issues. I agree with the author’s claim that minimum wage employees represent the largest, most philanthropic category of the American workforce because of the many challenges that they have to tackle in order to survive.

Notably, Ehrenreich’s argument has made me to realize that minimum wage workers in America are maybe one of the most ignored segments of the country’s workforce. The topic on how much an American worker should be paid at minimum is often a controversial one (Waltman, 2000).

The issue often ignites debates in the social and political spheres. However, as Ehrenreich points out, few individuals are really interested in ways of improving the lives of the low-wage earners. When legislation is passed to increase the amount of minimum wage in the country, the government and others usually pay more attention on the response of the employers while disregarding the effects of this in the real lives of the recipients of the legislation.

The book has succeeding in revealing this great deal of social discrimination that is still prevalent in the American society. Consequently, the course of low-wage earners is still severely hurt.

Before reading the book, I had the perception that minimum wage jobs did not require any “skills” to perform. However, the explanation that Ehrenreich gives has made me to think otherwise. Ehrenreich, a journalist with a Ph.D. degree, discovered that manual labor was physically demanding, boring, humiliating, and needed incredible acts of resilience, focus, good and fast thinking, and accuracy to perform. She also found out that continuous and recurring movement leads to the risk of cumulative trauma disorder (CT).

For one to deliver results as a minimum wage worker, one must be able to endure pain so as to hold a position in a market with constant returns. In addition, Ehrenreich points out the malpractices of the people in the management position who make the whole experience of low-wage earners to be even more dejected. They often disrupt the employees productivity and compel those they supervise to perform degrading and uninteresting duties.

In the book, Ehrenreich details the problems and sufferings of the individuals who, either due to lack of experience or other causes, have to commence their careers at the bottom by earning low-wages. Her explanation reveals that they find it hard to get by, and even more difficult to forge ways ahead. I would also expect it to be full of hardships and difficulties.

However, I am not certain if the author expected it to be so difficult and I am also not certain if her experience was long enough to enable her make the assertions or if she did her best in her undercover investigations. Nonetheless, as pointed out earlier, many of the issues she has raised are factual. The thought provoking book, Nickel and Dimed, was well-written and it is worth reading for opening the eyes of the readers regarding minimum wage employment in America.

Reference List

Ehrenreich, B. (2008). Nickel and dimed: on (not) getting by in America. New York: Henry Holt & Co.

Waltman, J. L. (2000). The Politics of the minimum wage. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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"Nickel and Dimed." IvyPanda, 28 Feb. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/nickel-and-dimed-2/.

1. IvyPanda. "Nickel and Dimed." February 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nickel-and-dimed-2/.


IvyPanda. "Nickel and Dimed." February 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nickel-and-dimed-2/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Nickel and Dimed." February 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nickel-and-dimed-2/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Nickel and Dimed'. 28 February.

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