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Nickeled and Dimed
In an attempt to prevent families from living below the poverty line in the United States, the government ensures that people are paid a minimum-wage. Through this minimum-wage, the government believes that people can afford to pay their rents and bills, and cover the costs of their groceries, etc. However, this is not true, as the minimum-wage is indeed too little for the average family to survive on. This is because of the soaring rents that people have a hard time paying; with the meager wages they earn they can hardly make ends meet.
The current situation in places like California is considered difficult to get by for the minimum-wage earner. It is considered impossible to escape poverty, realizing that the minimum wage that is given to workers is insufficient. The current solutions proposed are not enough to deal with the problem, and the government needs to take steps that will help the low wageworkers escape the vicious cycle of poverty that they (minimum wage earners) are involuntary caught in.
Due to the fact that people are involuntarily caught in this poverty, there is immense exploitation carried out by land and building owners. Given that there is an acute shortage of living space for minimum wage earners in the state of California, owners take undue advantage and increase rents to exorbitant rates. Families don't have much choice in their accommodation, and because of this there are thousands of people in San Francisco living in cramped-up expensive apartments. Rents are so high that families of many individuals have to live together in order to make-do with their minimum income. This situation is described thoroughly in Barbara Ehrenreich's book 'Nickel and Dimed' in which one gets to realize the manner in which society (the structure) defines the individual (the agency).
Analysis: The defining factors in society are largely the owners of housing for residents in the state of California and the employers of minimum wage earners. Land owners and employers being providers for the minimum wage earners naturally define the lives of individuals who rely on them for their necessities. Ehrenreich describes that though minimum wage employees may have worked hard for a long time and expected something good in return, it appears that there are always big, dark surprises for them when they least expect it. Ehrenreich also describes the way that people are always told that hard work pays off some day, and for this reason one finds the working class willing and eagerly working long hours in the hopes of being rewarded. They are sadly mistaken, because if they can hardly make enough money to keep their heads above the water, how then can they save enough for their retirement? (Ehrenreich, 2001) Here, it is worth asserting the manner in which individuals live in a state of 'false consciousness' by believing what they are told. Individuals (the agency) act according to what they are told or whatever they are influenced by.
The society (the structure) is what defines individuals, and it can be observed that in this minimum-wage crisis, the structure defines the nature of the agency. According to a Marxist description this holds true because of the 'false consciousness' that the agency lives by (Althusser, 1964:. 231-236). Similar to this is Durkheim's concept of individuals acting to fit the needs or requirements of the society. It must be asserted that Durkheim's 'Functionalism', a macro-sociological theory that almost considers the structure as more important than the agency, each individual works in order to fulfill the needs of the structure. Hence, in Durkheim's case, the manner in which individuals work for the minimum wage may be seen as justified (Durkheim, 1984: 23-30).
In contrast to Durkheim's views about the individual (the agency) in a society (the structure), for Marx the individual is considered to be more important, and this is the reason why he goes as far as describing an individual on the minimum-wage as 'falsely conscious', believing that there is something to gain from being exploited the way that s/he is (Althusser, 1977: 231-236).
Marx's 'false consciousness' helps explain the way that the working class is kept from revolting against the dominating bourgeoisie. Since they (bourgeoisie) are the owners of the means of production they have the rights to hire and fire workers at will, and so, anyone who wants a raise is released from an organization (Althusser, 1977: 231-236). Hence, all individuals who come under the minimum wage are compelled to follow what the society has to offer them; there is perhaps no other way for them, and this is why it must be asserted that they are defined by society. This is also a typical description of the way that individuals are defined by society in post modern times. The influences around one are overwhelming, and they (individuals) cannot escape it all because they are only fragments of a much larger structure. This is why downsizing of workers is something that is considered to be so normal, almost as though individuals don't matter at all (Foucault, 1977: 15).
Most of the time, the downsized workers are longtime employees and expect some semblance of employer loyalty. This situation is implicitly stated in Barbara Ehrenreich's book "Nickel and Dimed," where one gets to learn about what really happens to minimum wage workers and how dark their lives really are To determine what their lives are really like, Ehrenreich carried out an experiment.".. To see if (her) Income could match her Expenses; as the truly poor attempt to do each day" (Ehrenreich, 2001: 6). Ehrenreich demonstrates that it cannot be done. Thus, the concept of the 'economic man' is nothing but a cruel joke. How does anyone live on the wages available to the unskilled? (Ehrenreich, 2001: Introduction)
Clearly, it can be seen that the minimum wage earners cannot escape poverty, and Ehrenreich describes her position from personal experiences as she enters the minimum wage job market. She took up the highest paying unskilled jobs in three different states of the U.S. She barely managed to pay her rent, which is the cheapest available housing, with a wage of $7 an hour. Besides this, there were other obstacles that people in her position would have to face such as, unpaid overtime, the lack of any pity in remaining worker morale, etc. (Ehrenreich, 2001). It must also be realized that Ehrenreich as a female worker stood a more chances of being exploited. This is because of the fact that female unskilled labor is in fact considered to be second class or reserve labor. This is the reason why Ehrenreich also asserts the tedium of getting a job in the first place.
According to Ehrenreich, it is not that simple getting a job to pay for ones accommodation and living. People always think that it is easy to get a job when it is advertised in the newspaper. The common perception is that if one does not have a criminal record s/he can always get a job. But this is not true because what organizations do is they advertise even when they do not really need people on the spot. This ensures them a constant supply of applicants as potential workers (Ehrenreich, 2001: 25). Thus, organizations are exploiting the unemployment situation, and selecting their employees leisurely. Apparently, by the end of her work, Ehrenreich feels a high degree of apathy for the poor people living on the minimum wage. This is why, in her powerful summation, Ehrenreich says that the affluent among us should feel "shame at our own dependency, in this case, on the underpaid labor of others. When someone works for less pay than she can live on -when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently...The 'working poor', as they…[continue]
Ehrenreich Nickeled and Dimed In Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, the workers trapped in dead-end service sector jobs have virtually no chance at all of escaping poverty or obtaining any meaningful quality of life. That is one of the main themes of the book, a constant struggle for mere subsistence with a high cost of living and a very poor quality of life. These jobs are all the same in that
" (Ehrenreich, 2001, p.44) At least as a waitress, Ehrenreich is visible. Maids, which are usually, except in all-white areas like Maine, utterly invisible and socially isolated in the socially stratified community. Worse yet, while Ehrenreich might have had some anxiety about passing, even educated Black women occasionally have trouble 'passing' for the class they are a part of. 'Oh Look Mommy a baby maid," Ehrenreich quotes the poet "Audre Lorde"
Ehrenreich notes how girls who must work for hours cleaning houses often select a bag of Doritos over a sandwich for lunch, presumably because the Doritos are cheaper and taste good. Of course, for the workers at the lowest end of the pay scale, Doritos or the free burger Ehrenreich gets as a waitress for lunch is an undreamed-of luxury. Lunch might instead be some store-brand hot dog or hamburger
The sharpness of the division that Ehrenreich perceives might be at least partially a symptom of her ultimate lack of subjectivity. In her introduction, Ehrenreich admits that she has many advantages over actual minimum-wage workers, not the least of which is the knowledge that even should she fail in this endeavor, she has a nice home and a "real" job to return to, and that she is not in any
However, I did not feel in any way degraded by the position in the way that Ehrenreich did, and I believe that to be the case because many of Ehrenreich's positions were by their very nature problematic. For example, she worked as a waitress and a house cleaner. Both of those positions place the individual in a position of subservience. Working at Blockbuster is different because we are around
Rent, gas, utilities, food, and clothing become a burden because the market is not set up for those who make the least but those who make more than that and it really does not matter how much more because at a certain level, it is all too much and the low earners are simply left out of the system altogether. Nickel and Dimed also taught me that social responsibility
Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed Barbara Ehrenreich is a writer and journalist who decided to conduct an experiment and find out for herself what it is like to live on the minimum wage. For one month at a time she entered various communities, taking on minimum wage positions and trying to stay ahead. Ehrenreich detailed her experience in the book Nickel and Dimed. This books offers insight into the real
"Barbara Ehrenreich Nickel And Dimed" (2004, June 05) Retrieved October 20, 2016, from http://www.paperdue.com/essay/barbara-ehrenreich-nickel-and-dimed-171957
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"Barbara Ehrenreich Nickel And Dimed", 05 June 2004, Accessed.20 October. 2016, http://www.paperdue.com/essay/barbara-ehrenreich-nickel-and-dimed-171957