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Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed

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    This week’s literature comes from Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed. The essay writer goes undercover as a low income non-skilled worker to learn how to, financially, survive. This experiment took place during travels from Florida, Maine and Minnesota (Ehrenreich, 2017). The writer found a place to live and a job in each state. The duration of each experiment was said to last for a month and was to determine how a non-skilled worker can survive off low income and still afford to pay rent for the next month. During the text, we learn about a co-worker named Marge who suffers from personal ailments that conflict with her line of work.

    The first experiment took place in Key West, Florida since it was close to Ehrenreich’s home. There, she finds a job as a waitress at a diner and rents a trailer home. The low wages received from waiting tables is inadequate for survival and rent. So, she acquires a second job where she works as a maid for a hotel. Ehrenreich finds that having two jobs was too taxing, physically, for her so she discontinues working for the hotel after just one day of work. Her job as a waitress became much too difficult for her, and Ehrenreich quits her job before completing her first month’s experiment (Ehrenreich,2017).

    The next experiment took places in Portland, Maine. Ehrenreich was hired with a housekeeping service called The Maids. Since the prior experiment proved necessary to hold two jobs for enough income, she took on another job as a dietary aid in a nursing home. With the two jobs she worked, she found herself working seven days a week. The housekeeping job had become physically demanding, inadequately paid, which lead Ehrenreich to feel disrespected and highly degraded. During this experiment, one of her co-working maids injures herself at work. Ehrenreich tells the youngest maid to stop working and tries to prevent the maids’ work. Ehrenreich fight for justice failed, however she won a day off for the worker who became injured after complaining to the manager. Ehrenreich gets curious to know if the supervisors care to know of the distress required to make a perfectly clean home. The position as a dietary aid was to manage the Alzheimer’s unit by herself. She was so afraid that if she made a mistake she could cause harm to the patients there (Ehrenreich,2017).

    After Portland, Maine, she goes onto Minneapolis, Minnesota. However, in Minnesota there is a low availability of homes, so she has difficulty finding a place to live. Ehrenreich finds a job working as a “soft lines” personnel at the local Wal-Mart where she puts stray clothing back in the correct clothing department rack. She finally finds somewhere to live but she is consistently worried about the door that doesn’t have bolts. So, she ends up moving to a hotel that is more suitable (Ehrenreich,2017).

    After Ehrenreich leaves each job, she tells some co-workers that she trusts that she is working undercover to write a book about her experiences. She surprisingly notices that none of them seem interested in her reveal. However, she understands that the workers are too busy minding their own situation and circumstances as low-wage worker (Ehrenreich,2017).

    Ehrenreich’s conclusion beings with an evaluation where she critiques her performance at each job. Thus, she notices that each position required cognitive and physical skills she was unaware she needed. She decides that her effort and performance meet the requirements and was not above average. She notes that places she worked in were difficult due to the politics of the work place. However, she notes that if she had continued working at some of the places she worked in would have awarded her raises in position and wages (Ehrenreich,2017).

    In contrast, Ehrenreich discovers that places are competitive. She notes that the cost of living surpasses income. She notes that low income housing opportunities are going away which forces people to live farther away just to be crammed into an inadequate spaced apartment. She realizes that labor shortage was anticipated to yield increased wages yet had no effect on the types of income she was able to acquire. She also discovered schemes employers used to maintain low wages that enticed employees to return to their jobs. She believed drug test requirements were used to belittle employees which forced them to have low self-esteem. She notes that The Maid offered free breakfast but refused to increase pay due to understaffing. Most places Ehrenreich worked opposed fraternization in the work places which prevented employees from venting to one another or organizing against supervisors (Ehrenreich,2017).

    Ehrenreich concluded that due to limited opportunities for low-wage workers created difficulties finding more suitable paying jobs. She discovered that individuals from the lower end of the economy suffered from many issues and that by adjusting their place of dwelling would be far more difficult. She states that the main ploy of employer’s desire to maintain low wages derive from low-self esteem plots she found at each job. This includes the random drug screenings, inappropriate communication from management, and false accusations. Thus, making her feel child like rather than the 50-year-old woman she really was and deserved to be treated as (Ehrenreich,2017).

    In Portland, Maine Ehrenreich meets a woman named Marge whom she worked with as a fellow housekeeper at The Maids. Marge is the oldest of the housekeepers, and very talkative. Marge suffers from arthritis which makes it painful for her to execute her tasks and is told several times that she appears tired. On the weekends Marge indulges in Excedrin, Advil and cigarettes accompanied by alcohol (Ehrenreich,2017).

    In one instance, Ehrenreich and The Maid co-workers were in a car talking about them loathing for their jobs. Ehrenreich utilizes this scene to help illustrate why they don’t retaliate or submit complaints pertaining to their unfair working conditions. Thus, their manager had created a group of loyalty, which worked to his advantage. This is because he can treat them any kind of way, he can also make them feel like they are wanted so they stay (Ehrenreich,2017).

    As a social worker I would assist Marge by taking an assessment of her existing skills. Next, I would analyze her skill level and match them with any applicable jobs that may be more suitable for her work and life balance and less strenuous on her health. Finally, once I was able to find her a few matches and was able to find some she was willing to accept I would aide her in providing documentation of her notice to vacate her current job due to arthritis. Furthermore, I would offer her a term of weekly sessions of psychotherapy for therapeutic services and offer any remedies possible to help alleviate her stressors at home, including medication if necessary.

    There is an insurmountable feeling that describes how it feels to be poor. The role of the working poor in society is to contribute to the labor demand. Labor demanding jobs include a wide range of tasks such as painting, carpentry, housekeeping, hospitality services, retail, and more, just to name a few. The working poor are must find ways to be creative, faithful and must utilize extensive budgeting skills to survive. For the individuals that truly want to escape poverty, one must be strong-willed, must be willing to succeed and ready to take a few bumps and bruises to make it to the finish line, strong.


    1. Ehrenreich, B. (2017). Nickel and dimed: On (not) getting by in America. New York: A Metropolitan book.

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