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    “Nickel and Dimed” Literature Review

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    Rarely is the position of the minimum wage worker in American society ever talked about. In Nickel and Dimed, author Barbara Ehrenreich explains the struggles of living in poverty in America through a first account story. These struggles are seen through the dehumanization of minimum wage workers, the different mindsets of corporations vs workers, and the day to day lives of the poor themselves. Through these struggles, it shows the reader that there are true hardships when living in poverty in America, financially and socially.

    One assertion that the author portrays to the reader was the dehumanization of the minimum wage worker. “See, I am the vacuum cleaner.” (p.74, commercial salesman). When working for a business called “The Maids”, Barbara, the author, is forced to watch an instructional video on different cleaning techniques. The man in the video states that the vacuum cleaner goes on your back, and in a sarcastic way says, “See, I am the vacuum cleaner.” This quote somewhat foreshadows the constant theme throughout the book of you are your work. The poor as a group in society are only seen through their work, and constantly reminded of their status of being considered less than. “There are no secret economies that nourish the poor; on the contrary there are a host of special costs.” (p. 27, Barbara). When thinking of secret economies, it is most likely to think of a business that earns more advantages over other businesses, through foolery or other techniques. And in these secret economies there is always a flow of money. However, in the case of the poor there is no technique or trick to escaping from poverty. Poverty is a lifestyle, and this quote goes to prove that everything comes down on the poor. The rich, and the cost of living included.

    Another assertion that the author portrays to the reader are the different mindsets of corporations vs workers. “ I comfort myself with the Aleve commercial where the blue-collar guys ask: If you quit after working four hours, what would your boss say. . . he’d fire me. But fortunately the commercial tells us, we workers can’t exert the same kind of authority over our pain killers that our bosses can exert over us.” (p.33, Barbara). The power of corporations over the minimum wage working class is immense. The fact that the advertising world is directing their commercial of painkillers towards a group who desperately needs them because of their long hours without a break is ironic. In this quote pain killers exert power over the workers, similarly to the way that their boss would. Not only do they need pills to relieve their aches and pains, but minimum wage workers are forced to go through that pain and respect their boss for the sake of keeping a job. “ No time theft.” (p. 145, Barbara). While working at the Walmart corporation, having breaks and social communications with other employees were only seen as taking away from the revenue of the company. This continues to enforce this idea of the power of corporations over the worker, socially and physically.

    Although corporations viewed workers as their work, on the contrary, the workers themselves had different views. “Work is what you do for others, smoking is what you do for yourself.” (p.31, employee). This quote shows that sometimes you have to care for yourself before others which is what workers tried to do. Although workers knew how they were perceived by the corporations, they also knew that they had to care for themselves. Unfortunately, because of this enforced mindset of you are your work. Many workers fall for commodities such as cigarettes and consider them a luxury. “But guilt doesn’t go anywhere near far enough; the appropiate emotion is shame.–shame at our dependency, in this case on the underpaid labor of others.” (p.221, Barbara). Even when being put down by society and corporations themselves, minimum wage workers still come down on themselves. This quote is trying to show that poverty is not one sided, it is everyones issue, and the only way to get rid of this is to get rid of that “American Dream” of prosperity and luxury.

    Lastly, the struggles of the poor in their day to day lives. “The first thing I discovered is that no job, no matter how lowly, is truly “unskilled.” (p. 193, Barbara). Minimum wage workers in their day to day life are forced to sacrifice many things. Many of the workers had things in their life that forced them to go seek out a job, and leave their dreams behind. Although highly skilled, they were forced into job positions that barely allowed them to get bread. Majority of the book pertained to the financial aspects of living in poor America. However, one thing that many of the workers were forced to give up was their education. Instilled in us at a young age is the American work ethic that higher education and the best skills lead to higher salary and other benefits. To the poor, I don’t believe that money was necessarily the issue. It was the missing of opportunities, life, and happiness because of it. “Something is wrong, very wrong, when a single person in good health, a person who in addition possess a working car, can barely support herself by the sweat of her brow.” (p.199, Barbara). From this quote the reader is able to understand that poverty is a lifestyle.

    When losing weight, you have to make a lifestyle change. You cannot just exercise and lose the weight, you have to change your diet, your thinking process. However, in the case of someone living in poverty, it is extremely difficult to make that lifestyle change with little resources and little to no financial stability. “So ours is a world of pain- managed by Excedrin and Advil, compensated for with cigarettes and in one or two cases. . . with booze.” (p. 89, Barbara). In their day to day to lives, minimum wage workers are forced to go through pain, often having to turn to alcohol, cigarettes, and over -the- counter drugs as a way to cope. This not only only presents the struggle of the poor in day to day life, but the lack of health care and the need for reform.

    Although the book is mostly seen through the lense of Barbara, a white, single person who is also a Native English speaker. The reader is still able to grasp the overarching themes. “So I’m a victim, not of poverty, but of prosperity. The rich and the poor; who are generally thought to live in a state of harmonious interdependence — the one providing cheap labor, the other providing low-wage jobs– can no longer coexist. (p.72, Barbara). The rich depend greatly on the poor for revenue, benefits, and cheap labor. While the poor depend heavily on the rich do low paying jobs. Through this quote, the author in a way tries to enforce reality. There needs to be an end to the rich and poor dependence on each other. How much more can the poor working class take mistreatment and being underpaid? When will corporations stop mistreating the workers through unfair pay and little to no benefits? This book was published in 2001, and unfortunately most of these things still exist today.

    People still rely heavily on the rich and federal assistance programs, people are still doing back breaking jobs with no health insurance and little to no pay. “They neglect their own children so that children of others can be cared for. . . they endure privation so that inflation will low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.” (p.221, Barbara). People who have never had to face poverty, sometimes find it rather easy to look down on the less fortunate. People do not realize how much minimum wage workers contribute to their high quality lifestyles. People do not notice that minimum wage workers are people with lives, families, and mouths to feed. Minimum wage is not enough for the sustainability of life.

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    “Nickel and Dimed” Literature Review. (2021, Nov 15). Retrieved from

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