Sunday, April 10, 2011

Nickel and Dimed - Book Review

I just went to the library yesterday morning and got this book to read and finished the book in one day. It's really an easy read and very interesting. You've heard people say, the reason people live in poverty in America is because they are too lazy to work or too this or too that, but this book explores the topic in depth. Barbara Ehrenreich walked away from her upper class life and stepped into the work force at poverty level to see if she could work her way out of a dead end job and make ends meet on poverty level salary.  Her findings were interesting.

I thought the book would be more detailed about the end results of her ventures throughout the whole book, but she actually just wraps everything up in the final chapter. The first 3 chapters are her jobs she works in 3 different states and what she goes through trying to find a job with no skills/experience and find housing and everything she needs.  

The first chapter told of her job as a waitress and how she was treated at her job.
The second chapter tells of her job working as a maid, which I use to work at Merry Maids and can relate to everything she went through, bringing back memories I don't care for. She also worked a 2nd job at a nursing home, something I have also done.
The third job was her job at Wal-mart. I've never worked there, but I completely believe what she says about it by the way I hear some of the employees from Wal-mart talk. 

In her conclusions she states some facts: 
"Something is wrong, very wrong, when a single person in good health, a person who in addition possesses a working car, can barely support herself by the sweat of her brow. You don't need a degree in economics to see that the wages are too low and the rents too high." (p. 199)

"So if low-wage workers do not always behave in an economically rational way, that is, as free agents within a capitalist democracy, it is because they dwell in a place that is neither free nor in any way democratic.  When you enter the low-wage workplaces- and many of the medium wage work places as well- you check your civil liberties at the door, leave America and all it supposedly stands for behind, and learn to zip your lips for the duration of the shift. The consequences of this routine surrender go beyond the issues of wages and poverty. We can hardly pride ourselves on being the world's preeminent democracy, after all, if large numbers of citizens spend half their waking  hours in what amounts, in plain terms, to a dictatorship." (p. 210)

And you know the saying, "Treat someone like a criminal and they become a criminal",she sums it up by saying...

"Any dictatorship takes a psychological toll on its subjects. If you are treated as an untrustworthy person- a potential slacker, drug addict, or thief- you may begin to feel less trustworthy yourself. If you are constantly reminded of your lowly position in the social hierarchy, whether by individual managers or by a plethora of impersonal rules, you begin to accept that unfortunate status." (p. 210)

I have always hated stereotypes of any kind and when I hear people complain that all poor people are poor because they don't try hard enough it bothers me. It's just more complicated than that. There are so many different equations that fit into it. Barbara realized that as a single person, it was much harder for her to try to survive out there on her minimum wage alone, she said that most of the people she worked with were having to live with relatives, boyfriends or get married to have more than one income to keep them afloat. Throw in having to feed and raise children and it's alarming. By the time she got to Minnesota, she found it the hardest to live there of all, where she eventually had to leave her *experiment for her book* because she ran out of money.

She met many people along the way during her experiment that touched her life. She found things within herself, depths of compassion, anger, strength that she didn't know she had. Her story really touched me and I am glad she wrote this book for others that may have not ever had to go through any of these situations themselves, to read what it is like living day to day in a low paying dead end job. I highly recommend this book to anyone, regardless of their situation. 

While Barbara worked at poverty level, she still saw those around her giving out of their poverty. They even encouraged her to do the same. Maybe the poor have found a secret that some wealthy people haven't to the secret of happiness. Dipping into their own tip money to buy food for out of work friends, throwing on extra croutons when the manager isn't looking because you care more about the people than the rules... regardless of how little you get, giving has more rewards than receiving any amount of income.

"If you seek happiness for yourself you will never find it. Only when you seek happiness for others will it come to you." (p.20)


Anonymous said...

Sounds fascinating! I will check into it at the library.

Jolie said...

It's one of those books that sort of stays with you for a while after you read it. It also makes you feel VERY thankful for your situation if you no longer have to work under these conditions.

Martina said...

Sounds very interesting. I especially liked the last quote! I will see if I can find this book in Germany.
What I wanted to say all the time when I was just reading here: thank you for your pretty and inspiring blog! Martina