Nicked and Dimed: A Bourgeois Woman’s Attempt to Enlightenment Barbara Ehrenreich, a political journalist, found her writing inspiration a couple of years after the birth of her first child. Filled with political opinions and an itch to write, she took to her first successful pamphlet Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers. This started a wave of inspiration and success, leading to her New York Times Bestseller, Nickel and Dimed.
While originally Ehrenreich started with a Biology major, ocne getting into writing it became the only thing she wanted to do (Ehrenreich, para 3 and 4). While the concept of Nickel and Dimed is one you arguably can not train or prepare for, Ehrenreich’s experience as a skilled journalist provided her with everything she could have possibly needed. The only requirements to succeed within this experiment would be willingness to see any situation out, and the ability to journal your adventures. As for the book itself, the layout and development of the story was easy to follow.
By tracking along Ehrenreich’s trail, one could easily grasp the hardships and challenges faced by working minimum wage in America. Since Nickel and Dimed was a personal memoir, this within itself was primary source. The events of her experiment told by her, make this a primary source. My impression of the author was created within the first two chapters. The main problem I personally have was the rules Ehrenreich put into place. Part of the whole experience is that there is no way out. There is no ATM card to pull out if time got rough.
Her unwillingness to see the project in full, to me, is a slap in the face. There are so many people who do have to go hungry, and do live in their cars, and are homeless. The ability she has to just “call the experiment quits” is insulting and almost disgusting. Being fairly familiar with the life of poverty, it was extremely upsetting to see her refuse to live the way so many American people live every single day. Despite her rules, the rest of the story was very relatable. The experiences she had, the people she met, were ones found in the everyday life.
Her humorous tales of working in the real world both inspire me and frighten me. While on one hand it shows kindness like when Ehrenreich explains her co worker Gail, “dips into her own tip money to buy biscuits and gravy for an out-of-work mechanic” (pg. 20). Seeing the kindness of Ehrenreich and her fellow workers during her experiment goes to show that despite living a hard life themselves, many are still full of compassion for others. Coming from a lower class family, I understand how easy it is to give when you have little to nothing yourself.
My mother always taught me the importance of giving, no matter what. The more negative parts can be found in Ehrenreich’s brutal reality. “You lose your job, your car, or your babysitter. Or maybe you lose your home because you’ve been living with a mother or a sister who throws you out when her boyfriend comes back. (pg. 52). While Ehrenreich herself lived a prodigal lifestyle, this experiment taught the valuable lesson of the hardships faced by minimum wage workers. Being stuck in that life means constant hardships faced.
Like I mentioned in the beginning, the primary problem I saw came before the experiment itself. Her unwillingness to experience the true life of a minimum wage worker highlights the largest problem America currently faces. The higher classes see minimum wage workers and their lives to be paltry but are unwilling to negotiate any higher pay. Claiming people can “live off of” inimum wage, but refuse to do it themselves. Though Ehrenreich most likely did not intend on coming off this way, that attitude is one that can be seen all over America today.
While this hypocrisy is unnerving, the debate on minimum wage is at a stand still. Even though through this novel it was obvious that many minimum wage workers are kind and hardworking just like the rest of us. But corporate greed and bourgeois individuals claim, “raising the wage will make it more expensive to hire younger and low-skill workers” (Hassett, Strain). While this stingy and uncompassionate thinking is disgusting, this pinion is the one overtaking the business world, which sadly makes it an absolute reality within the American business market.
Throughout the Semester, the most obvious message gained is that money drives everything, and a lack of money is the most infamous form of inspiration. The English for example, on a quest for gold, came to the New World. Their quest for riches began a deleterious lifestyle of cannibalism and disease. Consumed with the search for riches, in the end, “only 38 survived the first nine months of life in Jamestown, with most succumbing to starvation and disease,” (Stromberg, para. ). Due to the English men’s obsession with finding wealth, none of them planted crops.
Similarly to the story, both the English and minimum wage workers put everything into their work, chasing gold that might not ever be found. Because of this dedication, many things like farming or families get pushed to the side. While the English had a more gruesome and unsanitary situation, the same concept applies now. Minimum wage workers put everything off just for the sake to chase their gold, which for most is just financial stability. In order to reach this success, many would move to America. Immigration to The United States has always been based on bettering one’s life and chances of wealth.
However, immigrants coming to America are usually desperate for any kind of work, and end up forced to handle this minimum wage lifestyle. While many might be dismissive to the concept of helping immigrants by raising minimum raise, it is important to once again look back at our history. Everyone (besides the Native Americans) were immigrants into this country, and had to make it in the world. Many experience even worse conditions than the other Americans in minimum wage jobs. In Ehrenreich’s experiment, she meets a dishwasher named George, who had just gotten into the country.
George explained to her that, “he shares an apartment with a crowd of other Czech “dishers.. ” and he cannot sleep until one of them goes off for his shift, leaving a vacant bed” (pg 38). This hard and unfavorable life is not an easy one to manage, but for most, a minimum wage job and poor living conditions is still much better than prior conditions. Lastly, and most obviously, economics and this story are one in the same. The purpose of the experiment itself is for Ehrenreich to ebunk the notion that minimum wage is enough to get by.
Ehrenreich found that, “two jobs, or at least a job and a half, would be a necessity” (pg. 197). This proves that by living bare minimum, logically, one minimum wage job would not be able to provide many people with a stable living environment. While the author herself was not particularly enjoyable, the lesson and experience learned was vital to all Americans. By being more open minded, and more compassionate, it is clear to see that a lot of our country works for minimum wage, and most of those workers deserve much more than $7. 25.