Nickel and Dimed

Posted: September 3rd, 2013





Nickel and Dimed

            The theme of this book is developed by Lewis Lapham editor, Harper and Barbara Ehrenreich. Ehrenreich thought that someone should look into life with minimum wages. She thought that a person should actually experience and document the finding and went on to do it herself. She left her job and looked for one with minimum wage. She was supposed to look for the one that was most highly paid and reduce her costs. Her life was to be exactly like minimum wage workers. She did this for a month and observed whether her income would meet all her expenses. As she worked, she was not supposed to use knowledge from her education, since it is not the case with minimum wage workers. Most of them do not have professional qualification so they are not highly educated (Burgess, 23).

Nickel and Dimed refers to a situation where an individual is charged little amounts gradually. Eventually the costs become too huge to handle. For a very long time low minimum wage workers have suffered under some malicious people. This book uses this notion to workers who get minimum wage. Ehrenreich says that the being of these people is eroded away by unfavorable working conditions. They end up being viewed as servants. The author is concerned about the welfare of these workers because no one addresses their concerns. She wants to show how difficult it is, to live from hand to mouth. In addition to that, these people work in deplorable conditions. Ehrenreich worked two jobs as a house help and a waitress. As she describes her experiences, it is quite clear that she was not comfortable. It shows how workers are maltreated and undermined. They are considered to do very low leveled jobs and are seen to be less human (Burgess, 39).

No one pays attention to poor people. The author makes us realize this. It makes the reader to realize that poor people do not have a position in the society. She gives an example of a question asking whether televisions are concerned in screening poor people. Her answer is a definite no. Low wage earners do the most difficult and important jobs. For example, baby sitting, house work or serving in restaurants or hotels. Unfortunately, no one pays attention or appreciates their efforts. Employers take advantage of their need for a job and treat them unfairly. They work so hard and involves long hours but they get the least earnings. It is surprising to them when they get time to rest or watch television. This is not right because resting is a necessity and not a luxury. These workers are also entitled to benefits like off days. It is unethical to overwork a human being (Ehrenreich, 61).

When Ehrenreich attempted a poor person’s life, she had a terrible experience. She could hardly earn enough for her expenses and it was impossible to survive. It was difficult to pay for accommodation because there are no cheap houses. Some of the apartments require additional deposits, which were hard to pay. This brought strain in meeting other expenses. These findings raise concern on how minimum wage earners survive. Necessities like housing should be made affordable for all categories of income earners. Most of these poor people end up being homeless because they cannot afford a home. This issue should be brought to the attention of the government. Minimum wage workers are taxpayers therefore; they deserve better living conditions (Burgess, 78).

As Ehrenreich was doing her experiment, she noticed that she had few options when choosing food. This is because if one cannot afford source of fire or a stove, she cannot cook at home. She could not also afford a fridge so she could not buy many groceries since they would get stale soon. This left her with options of eating from the fast food restaurants (Ehrenreich, 81). She could not afford expensive meals so she just bought cheap food. This is a risk to health and eating habits. Most fast foods are mainly snacks and course meals are expensive for poor people. This means most of them will acquire eating disorders because they cannot afford to eat healthy. A life that lacks necessities is not justified for people who are taxpayers. The government has a responsibility of making provision of basic requirements.

The persona of this story disguises her working experience when she looks for a job. She claims to be a former homemaker who is unskilled (Ehrenreich, 97). Her description confirms that minimum age workers are not well-educated people. This is why they can only secure low class jobs. This calls for a system that allows more poor people to access college education. This is the only way they will get professional skills and compete equally for better jobs.

Jobs like housekeeper, waitress among others are considered low class jobs. This is because of the poor conditions of working and demeaning wages. In the real sense, these so-called low class jobs are very important. Working class people would not make it without housekeepers or baby sitters. They need these workers to assist them. Therefore, there should be a strong campaign to eradicate the negative attitude towards these jobs. The labor authority should also impose a fixed amount of wage to avoid exploitation from the employers. This amount should be enough to meet basic expenses. They should also have schemes like health care insurance to cater for their medical expenses (Burgess 122).

Every piece of literature has a methodology. Ehrenreich has used three case studies, where she is the persona. Her major point was to confirm that it would be difficult to raise children with a minimum wage. They definitely need extra income to live. She actually uses herself as the persona of this story to be convincing enough about the outcome. She becomes the victim of poverty searching for a job. When she gets the experience, she will be in a better position to elaborate it in writing. Her methodology is viable and ideal because she has successfully brought out her argument. The author could have just used a topical way of presenting her findings. For instance, write about every single parent she came across, accommodation or managers she got. This is not the case because she has written down her evidence in a chronological manner. This style makes her story be more developed and appealing. Another way she could have presented her evidence in form of an interview. However, she did not do this. She personally does the investigation, which makes her proactive than just conducting interviews (Burgess, 135)

There are some critics about this literary work. Some analysts agree that this book has been written in short forms. This means that the author is better in short story writing than novels. They do not agree that her methodology because it is not compelling. These analysts say that there was no creativity at the end of the experiment. For instance, she says that she left the town because she could not afford it. There are other better ways of completing a story in an exciting manner. Her story is full of fist person pronoun. There is no participation from other characters. Only at the introduction is where she mentioned Harper who helped her to implement the of he story. It would have been livelier if there were other characters involved. Also the novel would be more educative if it incorporated other themes. There are related themes that could have been discussed about low waged earners.

Despite the critics, the author has successfully addressed her target audience. It depicts that Ehrenreich is a humble person who is concerned about the poor people or low wage earners. She sets a good example to other people who do not care about others in the society. The government has a big responsibility of meeting the needs of the poor and making their lives bearable. She makes the audience understand poor people are not infectious or harmful. They are people who need help because they are unfortunate. From the personas experiences, we have learnt that she experienced misery because of employers’ cruelty. This is a lesson to everyone who maltreats domestic employees. They should learn that they are equally human beings and should be treated with respect. It is difficult to eradicate poverty but a lot can be done to reduce it.


Worked cited

Burgess, Therese. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich: Notes. Melbourne, Vic: CAE Book Groups, 2004. Print.

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (not) Getting by in America. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001. Print.



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