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Book Review Barbara Ehreneich. 2001. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America - Essay Example

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Introduction In the searing and often funny book Nickel and Dimed, the writer Barbara Ehrenreich lived for one year on low wage jobs – as a waitress, a nursing home aid, a maid, and a Wal-Mart worker. Along the way, she encountered many indignities and injustices, from drug tests to intrusive questionnaires…
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Book Review Barbara Ehreneich. 2001. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America
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Download file to see previous pages She also found that, when one is poor, affordable housing is almost impossible unless one works several jobs. John Iceland made a more objective examination of poverty, and had many of the same questions and answer that Ehrenreich did. This paper will examine the causes of poverty from each perspective, and show where they concur. Discussion One of the questions that Ehrenreich asks is why are there poor, and why do the poor stay in low-wage jobs? Ehrenreich concludes that the problem with the wage stagnation is that, obviously, employers are not willing to increase wages for their workers. Employers will offer workers everything but a living wage – free meals, subsidized transportation and store discounts – but when it comes to actually raising their wages, they balk. This is because it is easier to curtail fringe benefits if the market becomes more of a seller's market, as is the case right now, then to attempt to lower their wages once the wage has increased. That is the obvious problem, but the less-obvious problem is the one stated above – why do workers stand for it in a buyer's market? Ehrenreich points out the obvious – employers are acting rationally, in their best interest, when they keep wages low, because this increases their bottom line. However, employees are not acting rationally by standing for it. The economic man model that Ehrenreich uses would state that the employees would gravitate towards the higher wages, “either leaving the recalcitrant employers behind or forcing them to up their pay” (Ehrenreich, 2001, p. 205). Ehrenreich herself behaved in this rational fashion, as she left her waitressing job at Hearthside to work at Jerry's which offered better pay opportunities because it was a busier place. She wondered why other employees did not do the same. Her conclusion was that there are a variety of reasons why a poor person accepts whatever wage he or she can get. One is that the poor are constrained by geography and lack of transportation. The poor rely upon others to give them rides to work, and some of the poor employees she knew rode bikes to work. Even if the worker has a car, there is an issue with gas prices and commutes. Add this into the fact that employers very often force their prospective employees to do onerous tasks such as go around town doing drug tests, and it becomes a matter of just getting the closest, easiest job that they can find as opposed to shopping around for a better gig. Ehrenreich also concludes that it is a matter of sticking with the devil they know, instead of going with the devil they don't – changing jobs means a loss of friendship with co-workers and starting over is difficult. For these reasons, workers tend to not only take low wage jobs without shopping around for a higher wage, but they also remain in these jobs once they get them. Another reason why workers do not behave rationally with regards to wages is simply because they do not realize that they are underpaid and have no means to compare job wages, one with the other. Want ads during this period, according to Ehrenreich, did not advertise the actual wages. Moreover, the workers themselves do not advertise what they are making, as discussion about money and salary is one of the remaining taboos about which one does not speak. Employers sometimes, illegally, force workers to keep quiet about their wages by firing people who speak up about how much they are making. ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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