Nickel and Dimed: The Horror of Low Wage Jobs

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of “Nickel and Dimed,” wrote about her experience living on poverty-level wages in America. She abandoned her lavish life of being a journalist with a Ph.D. in biology to work in various “underpaid” and “unskillful” jobs. Her main goal sought to prove that the low-class workers’ wages were not enough to provide for themselves, along with their families. Moreover, she wanted to represent them as well as stand up for their rights by proving that their jobs require an abundant amount of effort, in comparison to the amount of money they are paid in an hour.

Ehrenreich utilizes a variety of different techniques, such as writing in first person and providing statistics to prove her argument. Among them was going undercover – she wanted to understand how low waged, and non-skilled workers were able to make it work while jumping through all the other obstacles thrown at them. Through her chronicled description, the readers can see the significant struggles a low wage worker faces, as well as how it can affect them in the long run. Ehrenreich states, “There are no secret economies that nourish the poor…If you have no money for health insurance…You go without routine care or prescription drugs and end up paying the price. Gail, for example, was doing fine, health-wise anyway, until she ran out of money for estrogen pills. She is supposed to be on the company health plan by now, but they claim to have lost her application form and to be beginning the paperwork all over again. So she spends $9 a pop for pills to control the migraines she wouldn’t have, she insists, if her estrogen supplements were covered.

Similarly, Marianne’s boyfriend lost his job as a roofer because he missed so much time after getting a cut on his foot for which he couldn’t afford the prescribed antibiotic.” (Ehrenreich 21) Through her detailed description, the readers are able to see how physically demanding a low wage workers’ job is – some might even say physically damaging. However, they do not have the privilege to quit and wait around until something better comes along. They are forced to endure these horrible conditions and push through the pain until their work is done. They work rigorously in order to keep a roof above their heads and food on the table, to the point they are injury-prone. Barbara Ehrenreich tried working multiple low wage jobs, in which she tried living off of the money she had earned. Even with the various roles she was working; she was still unable to afford a place to live, food, and other necessities. How are they expected to provide for their families and stay healthy, if they are unable to provide for themselves?

Unlike other low wage workers, she had money set aside for emergencies, in which she used when necessary. By having access to extra money, she justified her argument, as real low wage workers do not have that type of money to fall back on. They live in a constant whirlwind, in which all that runs through their mind is work, money, repeat. With time, they eventually reach a “flow state,” in which emptiness sets in, and they get used to the routine. This lifestyle forces them to forget about life outside of this small bubble, in which surviving isn’t the only thought occupying their minds. How are they expected to take care of themselves and worry about their health when there is no one giving them a break? Even when they are hurt, they are still expected to work without the proper medication needed to ensure their health and safety.

This type of workforce blatantly forgets about the well-being of their employee. They are still expected to work even when they are injured – if not, they lose their job, which is precisely what happened to her co-worker’s boyfriend. Due to this rule, numerous people were obligated to live in their cars. By working these low wage jobs, she highlighted the struggles these people faced daily. They did not have the privilege to acquire extra money for emergencies – there is no escape from poverty. They are stuck in this cycle that prevents them from being able to establish themselves and create a stable living situation. Without access to medication and a healthy lifestyle, they are unable to remain able-bodied, let alone live past the life expectancy rate.


Read more