Nickel and Dimed
Nickel and Dimed, written by Barbara Ehrenreich has been published in 2001 for the first time. This book explains and describes the condition of the working poor in United States in the 21st century. To write this book the author who is a well-known journalist at the New York Times decides to experience being a low-wage worker for a few months.
She gives up her middle class life to become and live as a working poor. The author establishes a few rules at the beginning of her challenge such as not to go hungry or always having a car. But, except for those few exceptions she decides to go through the same life as her new coworkers.
She starts her experience in Florida then she goes to Maine and finally to Minnesota. Therefore, Nickel and Dimed describes the experiment and the troubles Ehrenreich had to go through while she was a working poor. She particularly accentuates on how humiliated and how ashamed people are of being poor. Shame and humiliation are essential themes of this book are explained and described through different ways such as the fact that poor people are invisible or not respected in their jobs or not able to talk freely, or mistreated by their manager even if they are sick.
First of all, the author explains that the poor are invisible and how they feel about it. “Maids as an occupational group, are not visible, and when we are seen we are often sorry for it” (99). The feeling of invisibility is normally one of the worst feelings that a human being should feel. But according to Ehrenreich, the maids feel relieved when they are not seen. Other people are looking at them as stupid people. They do not fit in the society. In fact, nowadays a person who does not use their brain in their work is not respected by others or by the upper classes.
Holly, Ehrenreich’s coworker and friend, describes in chapter two the mean and negative remarks people did to her when they know that she is a maid. She said, “ We’re nothing to these people” (100). Therefore, the poor are invisible in this society where the intellectual skills are valuable. They feel better when they are not noticed because they prefer to avoid the mean remarks from other. But, feeling invisible in their everyday life is a shame. They are human beings who need to be considered by others and integrated in a group to socialize as everyone else.
Second of all, readers understand that low-wage workers are not respected in their job and this starts at the hiring process. While Ehrenreich tries to be hired at Wal-Mart in chapter three she explains that she has to go through psychological and drug tests. The first test is not supposed to affect the decision of the managers but in fact it does. Roberta, her coworker “takes it off to another room where, she says a computer will ‘score it’. After about ten minutes, she’s back with alarming news: I’ve gotten three answers wrong” (240).
Corporations start to lie to their employees before hiring them. Low wage people as B. Ehrenreich are not hired because of their quality or personality. The relation between the employees and them is a computer. The corporation does not consider them. Working poor could be compared as animals that pass or fail a test before being bought. Those workers lose their self-esteem because of the lack of consideration they receive in their jobs. It is a perpetual humiliation to feel ignore by everyone. Third of all, Ehrenreich describes how employees are not allowed to talk to the customers.
For example, when the author works at Hearthside her manager tells her, “No chatting for you, girl. No fancy service ethic allowed for the serfs. Chatting with customers is for the good-looking young college-educated servers in the downtown capriccio and ceviche joints, the kids who can make $70-$100 a night” (35). And Ehrenreich explains that she was not also allowed to talk to her coworkers while she was at Wal-Mart of certain subjects. And if she did, she could be fired. But, forbidding people to talk about certain subjects or to discuss with some of their coworkers is a violation of the fundamental rights.
In the author’s experiences, readers understand that she has lost her humanity because freedom of speech is one of the fundamental rights that is expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was established in 1945 by the United Nations. Speaking is an advantage of men because we are the only species who can communicate. Losing this advantage makes the person feel like she is not even human anymore. He loses all his self-esteem and feels humiliated. Finally, Ehrenreich shows how the health of people is not respected in the low wage class.
While the author works at The Maids we have the perfect description of this kind of humiliation because her manager “ Ted doesn’t have much sympathy for illness, though; one of our morning meeting was on the subject of ‘ working through it’ ”(87). He mistreats the author’s friend and coworker, Holly who is pregnant and has to work to survive because she does not have any money. But Ted forces her to work in terrible conditions. Holly cannot take a real lunch break or a few days of vacation to rest even if she is extremely sick and tired because of her pregnancy.
And if she takes her break without her manager’s approval she could be fired. She appears like a slave who is forced to do every task her manager assigns her even if Ted does not pay attention to the fact that she is sick. Therefore, Ehrenreich has to stand up and fight for her friend to have the permission to take a day off. But Ted would let a woman works even if he knows that she is about to be taken to the ER. I believe that a person who is sick cannot be forced to fight against her body. Unhealthy people should be helped and not used as slaves.
Therefore, this episode underlines how humiliating it is for a sick person to be forced to work. Holly in this episode becomes an animal who has to work even if she is physically unable to. Working poor are not only having money problems they also have to go through humiliation and shame in their everyday life. Trying to modify their social status is almost impossible when we understand how they are treated. They lose their self-esteem and do not trust themselves anymore. Therefore, they will not even try to change jobs.
They are stuck in their own conditions. They are not considered as humans in their job. The low-wage workers are unsocialized because of their wages and are mentally destroyed by their managers. Barbara Ehrenreich describes their situation in this book through her own experience to inform the world of their situation. In the 21st century in a country like United States, which is supposed to be the most powerful nation in the world, citizens cannot accept that others are treated like that. Low-wage workers need to be respected.