Posted: September 4th, 2013
The Poor and the Rich
The book “Nickel and Dimed” was written by Barbara Ehrenreich from a real life experience as an undercover journalist who decided to investigate the impacts of the 1996 welfare reform Act on the working class in the United States. In contrast, much of Barbara’s ideas in this book revolve around the societal aspects. The dominant themes include working class mentality, poverty as well as the ivied between the rich and the poor. Barbara draws out her experiences from working casual jobs in Florida, Maine up to Minnesota to come up with first-hand stories of the real conditions that most wage workers go through in America.
Barbara starts her quest to discover the wageworker livelihood in Key West, Florida where she worked as a waiter in a diner-style restaurant. She also got a rental trailer to live in. Soon, she discovered that the salary at the restaurant could support her rent pushing her into taking a second job as a hotel house cleaner. The workload became too much to handle forcing her to quit the hotel job just as fast as she had taken it but things became unbearable even at the diner, forcing her to quit her second job before the month was over. She then moved to Portland in Maine where she again took up a job as a house cleaner but now with a residential housekeeping service. Her experiences at making ends meet in Florida prompted her to take another job as a dietary aide in a nursing home. Here, Barbara worked all the days of the week, draining her physically and paying her peanuts. Lastly, she moved to Minnesota to work in Wal-Mart but again faced the challenge of getting affordable, good rental houses.
The Personal responsibility Act of 1996 was expected to boost employment among the jobless as well as giving federal cash assistance to the poor. It was intended to end welfare and support struggling citizens in their attempts at seeking jobs. Class awareness in America is mainly defined by the income brackets of the citizens. Such criteria create the lower, middle and rich class. The promotion or demotion from one class to another depends on many factors but a dominant one is the obtaining of necessary skills to perform important work. In the process, one achieves a substantial income as well as influence that place them in a higher class than before. The class divisions result in class cultures. These are clearly displayed in the way different social classes run their businesses, educate their children culminating in even their choices of places of residences. A good example is the lower class live in the projects, which are in reality, government subsidized houses, or in very inhabitable conditions. Houses do not meet health and security in addition to other state standards. The middle class can afford to live in urban apartments, which have proper housing while the rich class possesses huge villas that occupy large tracts of land and access to public goods. (Ehrenreich 87)
Belonging to a certain social class in America especially in the mid 1970’s had many consequences. The rich, upper class consisted mostly of wealthy families earning over $250,000 who owned most of the corporate America while exercising indirect power through the investment of capital. Most of the upper class also had inherited privileges .In addition, this class was the best compensated as compared to the three. The middle class consisted mainly of high-salaried workers who went to prominent universities and earned from around $40,000 to $180,000 or thereabout. Lastly, the lower class consisted of jobless or low wage earning workers who took home the least incomes of up to $7 a day. These class differentiations in America set the main theme in the Nickel and Dimed.
Barbara Ehrenreich attempts, largely, to illustrate the similarities and differences between classes. During her time experiencing different jobs, she describes her findings satisfactorily enough to describe the state of affairs in the labor sector as well as the class differences in America. Barbara brings out the differences between the lower class and the upper class by illustrating the housing problem in America. She talks of dwindling housing opportunities especially for low-income workers as inevitable. The rising rent rates only served to worsen the situation, as the rise in pay was not as steep. The managers of many firms, who were mostly upper class, intentionally used various methods to keep wages low while lowering the dignity of their workers to keep them coming back. Barbara also described how the lower class had little privileges as opposed to many disadvantages therefore making it hard for them to progress along their careers or business ventures. Where she worked, the lower class had very few options, little education and transport problems, all of which served to entrench their position at the bottom of the food chain. This is opposed to the rich categories that have access to business information alongside capital to grow financially. They also have access to the best state services like sanitation, transport amid other public amenities. (Ehrenreich, Bait and Switch 87)
Within the world today, the divide between the rich, upper class in relation to the lower class continues to grow. Globally, the class divide has distinguished the Western countries, which continue to live comfortable lives from the Southern countries that continue to languish in poverty, diseases and poor leadership. The promise to eradicate poverty by the state through the Welfare Act is just one of the many promises that are made by the government even today. However, it is clear that the interests of the poor, lower class plus the lower middle class are not really the priority of the government or any other body for that matter. In conclusion, the “state of emergency’ suggested by Barbara has finally come into realization in the 21st century.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. Bait and Switch: The (futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2005. Print.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (not) Getting by in America. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001. Print.
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