Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

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Each person has their version of the American Dream, but most people would say that it consists of getting a good education, having a family, and working at a job you like, owning your home and car, being able to afford items that you want, having money for retirement, and living comfortably. In Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich, a journalist who has a Ph.D. in biology gave up her regular job to find out how low-income people live, trying to see if the low wage workers could make ends meet and live the American Dream. To find out, Ehrenreich put herself in the position of a low-wage worker and moved to three different places, Florida, Maine, and Minnesota. There she worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a house cleaner, a nursing home aide, and Wal-Mart employee. Ehrenreich learned that surviving on minimum wage was very difficult, and she found out that most workers can't afford to rent apartments or live on their own. She also shows that the work is degrading and that the managers who are meant to provide assistance to their employees weren't helpful. What Ehrenreich shows in the book is that this version of the American dream is not attainable for many low-wage workers, but that does not mean they lack aspiration or goals. Their version of the American Dream might include earning a wage that better rewards them for the work they are doing; having a place to live that is stable and safe, and being able to enjoy some aspects of their lives instead of feeling stressed all the time.

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When life charges someone with a little bit at a time until the expenses are beyond one's means, then this is termed as Nickel and Dimed. In the book, Ehrenreich tries to explain the lives the workers with minimum wages live. According to the author, the dignity and spirit of the workers are chipped away by a culture that promotes unlivable and unjust conditions that make them result in becoming servant class. Due to the growing occurrence of the working poor, in the US, the author poses the question of how difficult it is to solve the minimum wage job. The problem is how the low-income earners can match their incomes to the expenses they are expected to pay. Poverty according to Ehrenreich is very familiar in society today.

America, as described by the author, is a country where society has no place for the bottom crust. This is because the country was founded on the principles of self-reliance; the rags giving way to the riches, having bootstraps where one might pull oneself up. There is little room for those that work hard, but do not attain wealth. This, therefore, becomes a society of winners and losers, whereby the winners always go for the spoils. Several factors have made the poverty situation worse. Such incidences of the great depression produced a state of poverty which became a language for most humans. In the Nickel and Dimed, the author argues convincingly how the American poverty can be cured by employment. The compelling truth and the bitter pill to swallow is that the poorest remain poor regardless of how hard they work, or the number of jobs they have. They labour on junk food and little sleep just to provide a room over their heads. Due to the turn of events, from booms to the great depression, the lives of the poor become impossible which results in depression.

According to the book, Ehrenreich states;

I grew up hearing over and over, to the point of tedium, that hard work was the secret of success, Ehrenreich writes. No one ever said that you could work hardharder even than you ever thought possibleand still find yourself sinking ever deeper into poverty and debt. What then can we call those low-wage workers who work and work, give and give, for little reward, so that those better off than they can reap the benefits? They are, Ehrenreich writes, the major philanthropists of our society.

Ehrenreich is startled by the attitudes she gets from the low-income workers but is not surprised to found out how tough the lives of the poor people are. From the book, Hooly submits to Ted by going to work while unwell and goes on to apologize for breaking her foot. Colleen a single mother of two and a maid can let go off of all the insults at her workplace. She states;

I dont mind because I guess Im a simple person, and I dont want what they have. I mean, its nothing to me. But what I would like is to be able to take a day off now and thenif I had toand still be able to buy groceries the next day.

This confession shows that Collen has no anger, and is not rebellious. It also shows the lack of solidarity to battle oppression throughout America and the world at large. In her endeavours, Ehrenreich finds humility, complacency and defeatism. She is, therefore, pushed to trying to end the suffering of the workers at Wal-Mart by spreading the word about the possibility of having a strike by the hotel workers. However, this does not sink into the minds of the workers as they are intimidated by their low wages which remind them of the powers of hierarchy that strip the employees of the will to fight for their rights. The point that the author is trying to bring out is the fact that the state is becoming a totalitarian.

In summary, living the American dream is not as easy as it sounds. Most Americans are earning less than the expenses they have to take care of. The problem according to the author is not unemployment, but welfare reforms that have resulted in most people being employed do not guarantee a familys life that is free from poverty. These reforms mostly leave the poor to fend for themselves. The society lacks solidarity, and that is why the poor are becoming poorer without enough to cater for their expenses. These people lack proper housing, health care, public transportation and proper child care. The main issue that Ehrenreich is trying to spell out is that something is wrong that a person is in good health, possesses a good car and can support themselves by the sweat of their hands. One does not need to be educated to realize that the rents are too high, and the wages keep on becoming low. The plight of these low income earners ought to be addressed. According Ehrenreich, if not addressed, it might become a state of emergency.

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