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Summary Of Barbara Ehrenreichs Nickel And Dimed Essay

In Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Nickel-and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, she investigates whether welfare reform programs are appropriate in aiding women in poverty and that these institutions will affect their economic and social mobility in the future. Ehrenreich initiated her research in June 1998, in the form of participant observation. Her experiment was design allowed her to personally experience the hardships of a worker with minimal skills living on minimum wage.

Barbara’s poses as a divorced homemaker with experience primarily consisting of housekeeping for private households; ultimately, she is categorized as a mother on welfare. Women in this faction have a monthly income of approximately 50,000. Ehrenreich’s next objective was to look set up her new life – find her basic needs for survival. The reporter in disguise first sought a place to call her home. With her experience as a housekeeper, she could possibly earn a salary of $7 an hour, allowing her to spend $600 maximum on rent.

Ehrenreich was in the Key West area, where she was limited (by her monetary means) to flophouses and trailer homes as a form of shelter. One of the homes that Ehrenreich’s liked was a home with no television, windows, screens, fans, or air conditioning. Even worse, the monthly went was $675, which was far from what Ehrenreich could afford. She had come to the realization that any area in America, whether it was New York City or the Bay Area, was expensive to inhabit. The reporter was more mortified by the idea that she aspired to obtain “trailer trash” commodities rather than more upscale ones.

Consequently, Ehrenreich sacrificed affordability and convenience for a home with a monthly rent of $500 and a commute about forty-five minutes from her workplace assuming there’s no road construction or traffic. The cabin that she purchased is in the back yard of a mobile home, where her landlord resides. Despite Ehrenreich’s preferences for a “bustling trailer park,” her home had a “gleaming white” floor, an adequate mattress for sleeping, and a few temporary insect problems.

The purpose of Ehrenreich’s experience was not to undergo the hardships of poverty and share how it feels to be in this social class; in fact, the reporter struggled with several periods of poverty in her lifetime. This experiment was purely objective in a scientific context, such that she’s challenging the notion that employment opportunities will move women from the poverty line; furthermore, their self-determination and value in the economy will increase. In a broader perspective, transitioning from welfare to work will lead to greater prosperity for society.

There are limitations to this theory, however. The economy will eventually be subjected to a decline that can eliminate a plethora of jobs. And should the downturn not occur, the large influx of workers in a low-wage labor market could further decrease wages. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), salaries could diminish by as much as 11. 9 percent. The theory, otherwise, can only bring about positive outcomes. Ehrenreich’s research questions whether social mobility is feasible for unskilled workers and if economic opportunity can mitigate the social ills of the underclass.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, in 1998 and on average nationwide, the hourly income of $8. 89 equated to a one-bedroom apartment, while the Preamble Center claims that the chance of a welfare recipient being offered a job at minimum wage is 97 to 1 (Ehrenreich, 2001). Based on these statistics alone, low wages could not possibly serve as a solution to poverty, let alone homelessness. Ehrenreich considered many of the factors that would affect her ability to sustain her way of life, such as medical and physical.

Another flaw was that she had no children to pose as part of her family, as she was curious about families living off minimum wage. On her first official day of playing a divorced homemaker, Barbara searched for an occupation in the newspaper advertisements. She manages to land a job at a family restaurant, Hearthside, as a waitress. The restaurant is linked with a well-renowned hotel chain. Phillip is the manager of the establishment and allows Barbara to begin the next day. She is to work for two weeks from 2:00 to 10:00 P. M. for $2. 43 an hour (including tips).

Gail, a middle-aged waitress, is assigned to train Barbara on her duties, while adding in personal tidbits of her life. Aside from learning where to fill the lemonade, Gail would mention how her boyfriend died in prison. Although Barbara began with a rough start, she finds she’s putting all her genuine effort in maintaining her work status. On Fridays, there are mandatory meetings for the employees. A consultant from headquarters was present at the meeting, remarking how the break room was “disgusting,” the same area where the employees keep their belongings and take their meal breaks.

The consultant insists that the break room is a privilege among the employees and that he has every right to strip them of it. Barbara’s coworkers voice their personal concerns about the restaurant but will mostly be unheard by the higher-ups of the company. Another meeting is held four days later, where Phillip addresses that there may be “drug activity” during the night shift; as a result, new and current employees may be tested, for the restaurant was now deemed a “drugfree” facility.

Barbara finds the scenario rudimentary – rounding up the employees in one area and threatening to search their lockers or for some other base accusations. This causes hostility between coworkers, such as Stu (one of the employees) lashing at Gail and Barbara for being “too generous with the rolls. ” It may appear that individuals in this financial brackets are stable, however, this is merely a misconception. Barbara’s coworkers are familiar with economic hardships: housing plays as a major factor that disrupts one’s life.

Ehrenreich compiled the housing situations of her coworkers. Gail shares a room with a male friend who flirts with her; although it’s “driving her nuts,” she wouldn’t be able to the weekly rent of $250 by herself. Claude, the cook, desires to leave his current apartment, where he lives with his girlfriend and two unrelated people. Annette, a twentyyear-old waitress, has been pregnant for six months and was abandoned by her boyfriend; luckily, she found shelter with her mother.

Marianne and her boyfriend spend $170 a week for a trailer that houses one person. Jack makes the highest wage out of all the employees – $10 an hour – and lives in a trailer for a monthly fee of $400. Andy, another cook, lives on a boat is merely 20 feet long (according to Andy). Tina pays $60 nightly for a room she shares with her husband at a Days Inn hotel. They do not own a car and the Days Inn is within walking distance of Hearthside. Marianne is kicked out from her trailer and moves in with Tina and her husband.

Joan, the hostess of Hearthside, lives in a van that is parked adjacent to a shopping center and occasionally uses Tina’s shower, despite the upscale outfits that she wears to work (which few would learn that are bought from thrift shops). Barbara attempts to be sympathetic with her coworkers’ living conditions, however her ability to understand is limited. Gail considers moving out of her apartment and into the Days Inn, yet she will struggle with paying the daily costs of landing a hotel room. Barbara is fortunate because she set aside start-up costs prior to this experiment.

In reality, the average person in this social class would not have the means to save money; rather, social mobility is practically impossible. A member of the working class (or lower) could barely afford fast food or hots dogs for sustenance, and if you don’t have health insurance, then you cannot pay for prescription drugs. Many of these workers are trading their health for their basic needs in life. For instance, Gail was supposedly on the company’s medical plan, yet they claim that her application was lost and paperwork must be completed again.

Marianne’s boyfriend, also, lost his job because he was unable to come into work due to physical injuries; he had a cut on his foot, which the prescribed antibiotics were out of his financial reach. Barbara, too, begins to reflect her journey so far in the world of low wages and long hours. Her experimental life, should it be real, would be just as miserable as those of her coworkers. Although the tip money she earned as a waitress appeared reliable (for it covered the expenses of food and gas), it was not a consistent flow of money entering her pockets.

During summer, when the heat would slow down business, she would walk out with an average of $20 in tips. Combined with her hourly wage, she would be making an estimated $5. 15 per hour. Even worse, she has no expenses that she could cut to save more money, and at that rate, she would be short of her rent of about one hundred dollars. Barbara can barely afford supplies to cook her own meals and settles with a combination of frozen and canned foods; for dinner, meals can be purchased for about $2 by an employee, yet the effects last for a short time.

In order to uphold her way of life, Barbara must find a second job. Barbara begins her search in hotels and inns like the Hyatt and Econo Lodge. She is unable to land a job that in these companies despite her efforts. Her observations during her job search included how housekeepers were African America, Spanish-speaking, or immigrants indigenous to the Central European postCommunist world, while serves were primarily white and English-speaking. Again, a family chain restaurant, Jerry’s, is willing to hire her as a waitress (as opposed to her working background of a housekeeper).

Barbara is excited that she may be able to keep her current living conditions, yet is anxious for the workload at Jerry’s, such that the restaurant attracts three to four times the customers that Hearthside does. For the first two days, she managed both jobs, having high hopes that her new schedule was a feasible one. Barbara is eager to quit Hearthside for Jerry’s – an idea that Gail also appears to be fond of, yet Gail left her apartment and moved into her pick-up truck.

Phillip even offered Gail a space in the parking lot if she stays out of sight, and Gail insists that she’s safe because the hotel security guard frequently patrols it. To Gail, it’s a major reason to continue her employment with Hearthside. Jerry’s was initially better than Hearthside, but could be easily considered on an equal level of misery. Joy, a woman in her early thirties, teaches Barbara her duties as a waitress, but is renowned for her fluctuating moods between and during shifts.

B. J. s another coworker who sternly supervises the other employees via chastisement and harsh orders. Barbara decides to move closer to Key West. The commute is shorter and gas expenses will decrease if she did, considering she was spending about $4 to $5 a day to fuel her car. On average, the tips she received at Jerry’s was merely 10 percent (and not because she was a new employee). With her set wage of $2. 15 an hour, and between sharing the tips with the busboys and dishwashers, her hourly salary was as little as $7. 50.

Even purchasing $30 for her uniform slacks took a huge hit on her expenses, such that it’ll require weeks to get back that money. Barbara observes that her coworkers, the ones not in a serious relationship, have also taken up a second job. With her $500 deposit and about $600 in savings, Barbara rented out trailer number 46 in the Overseas Trailer Park. Her new home is about one mile from the cluster of hotels in Key West. Her trailer is eight feet wide, has a sink and stove, a two-person table, half-sized couch, and a bedroom.

The bathroom is extremely with barely any room for a person to sit down comfortably. There’s a liquor store, a bar, a convenience store, and a Burger King a few yards from her trailer, yet there is no supermarket or laundromat. Overseas Park is known to be an area teeming with crime and crack, and Barbara hopes for “some vibrant, multicultural street life. ” The conditions at Jerry’s began to worsen. Firstly, restaurant employees are restricted from the hotel bar. The justification for this new rule is due to Joy, who also inhabits a trailer-home with three children.

Joy was reportedly upset about something that led to her have a few drinks and return to work intoxicated. Another new regulation is locking the dry-storage room. Ted, the assistant manager, claims that he caught one of the dishwashers steal something, and the supposed “miscreant” will remain at the restaurant until they find a new employee to replace him. Ted reveals to Barbara who the culprit is without her inquiring. The news had upset Barbara so much that she considered defending George, the employee that Ted accused of stealing, but she didn’t.

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