Society encourages people to work hard and maintain good moral values. It also emphasizes on respect as well as sharing of resources. American History has undergone through various turmoil, with periods of slavery and conflict covering most of its past. However, the past two centuries have seen a significant break from internal conflict. They have increasingly united for a common purpose. They have also moved to achieve the American dream.
Nonetheless, apart from working for the same purpose, American society has pending issues that seem to remind them of the past. This may not be official, but is witnessed in the pathetic lives of low-class workers. These people toil to earn meager wages that are less than their monthly expenses and needs. In fact, as Ehrenreich puts it, they survive in “unlivable” conditions, which are not quite different from slavery.
It is common knowledge that values of a society require fairness and presentation of opportunities to all members. This may be the case in middle to upper income groups but not with low-income workers. In essence, as much as history shaped America, it keeps the low-income group at bay. This paper will explore Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, On (Not) Getting By in America and relate it to society and History (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 low wages survive in a country where they form the largest sector.
To ensure that her writings are non-factious and provide 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 slavery (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 on them every day. In this regards she takes the unusual role of an undercover, in trying to make ends meet through low-class earnings. 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).
Ehrenreich’s experiences and its relation to society and History
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 currently a 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.
These claims are completely criticized by Ehrenreich in her 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 to the fact that these groups could remain in the same state for the rest of their lives. To this extent, it is only possible to concur with Ehrenreich that these conditions are unlivable and can be referred to as another form of slavery.
Problems that face people in low-class economic order
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, and 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, and 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 slavery (although this is not official). This makes it look like a form of capping that ensures they remain poor forever.
The way society views minimum wage workers
Under these conditions of work, with poor transportation facilities and healthcare, people are unable to live healthy lives. In fact, all they earn are consumed without much left for planning. Consequently, they have to struggle to survive. Society therefore views them differently depending on class. 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).
The way Nickel and Dimed relates to History
It is common knowledge that most people in the lower economic order can trace their roots back to slavery period. For instance, majority of them maybe immigrants, African Americans, or other native Americans. On the other hand, Americans of European descent seem to enjoy life, which mirrors slavery and conflict period in America’s History.
During those periods, Americans of European descent were the only recognized citizens with full rights, while the other groups were either slaves or workers. The struggle for freedom brought it, however, majority of them have remained in same social class. In essence, even though significant changes have taken place, majority of them remain in their former social classes.
It is common knowledge that America is a land of opportunity and freedom, where anyone willing to work hard can get ahead and make a comfortable life. 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. In this regard, as much has, history has changed significantly; it is still mirrored in their lives. Moreover, their economic progress is “capped” since they cannot earn more than their expenses. In essence, Ehrenreich’s story links with society and history (Ehrenreich 22).
Ehrenreich, Barbara. “Nickel and Dimed, On (Not) Getting By in America”. Holt Paperbacks, 2008.