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Essay Samples > Book Review > Nickel and Dimed
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Nickel and Dimed

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Nickel and Dimed is a non-fiction book written by Barbara Ehrenreich about the plight of the low-wage earners in the United States after the welfare reform act signed by Bill Clinton in 1996. She developed the idea about writing Nickel and Dimed over an expensive luncheon with Lewis Lapham, an editor of Harper, where she wondered how unskilled workers survive on a small income. To end the curiosity, Barbara decided to take a first-hand experience by getting employment in three different cities, which includes Key West, Maine and Minnesota. In these cities, she worked in restaurants, hotels, eldercare facilities, retail outlets, and as a cleaning service provider.

Working in restaurants, hotels, retail outlets and eldercare facilities, as explained by Ehrenreich, affects the treatment and aspiration of low-wage workers. For instance, Ehrenreich expected the increase in the labor shortage to lead to the rise in the wages, which was not the case. Moreover, the market competition and the need to make profit among the investors are elevating the nickel and dimed situation in US. The need to find shelter has seen the price of houses inflated by the owners; hence, unaffordable for most of the low-wage workers.

Nonetheless, Ehrenreich found discrimination a success for her studies. For example, the poor do toilet cleaning and mopping that are accompanied by very low payments compromising their living standards. This has seen many campus and advocacy groups struggle for the improvement of the living wage. Therefore, the employers should consider basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing and health before deciding on what amount to pay their employees.

Furthermore, Ehrenreich asserts that she managed to secure a house, but still could barely survive due to high prices of food. It is very clear that the poor cannot compete with the rich for houses and food leading to the price of house and food increase to the advantage of the rich. To avert this situation, the government should build state houses that the low-wage workers can rent since the welfare reform act has it that even the poor should seek employment. This has led some families to depend entirely on the services such as housing and help with childcare from the family unit rather than calling the government for help.

Further, nutrition and health is inevitable for low-wage workers due to the nature of work that they carry out. Firstly, the manual labor is taxing, uninteresting and degrading; thus needs nutritious food and good health. Secondly, such jobs need focus, quick thinking, incredible stamina and fast learning, which come because of nutrition and good health. In addition, healthy workers increase their daily productivity by increasing the number of hours they take to work- a phenomenon beneficial to the workers because their daily earnings increase. On the other hand, unhealthy workers are underproductive and get low earnings; hence, workers are motivated to go to doctors due to ill health in order for their productivity to increase. Workers who take long before going to doctors when they are ill end up spending a lot of money in treatment.

Hitherto, Ehrenreich explains that there are well paying jobs, but low paid workers are unable to find them. This scenario is characterized by, little education, transportation problems, and low self-esteem. Ehrenreich when at Minnesota encountered a challenge in moving from places to places filling the application forms. She finds out that application process for a job requires a lot of time because it takes hours to drive to places filling out the actual application form. Due to the taxing nature of the jobs done by the low-wage workers, the application process is lengthened to test the patience of the employees.

However, Ehrenreich’s experience would be different in today’s economy because the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has put an initiative that allows states to apply for a waiver for the work requirement of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) after increasing employment by 20%. The waiver allows states to help TANF applicants to find jobs without putting many restrictions.

Ehrenreich reveals that having any job is better than having no job. Ehrenreich’s colleague, Holly, is sick and does not want to go to the hospital with the fear of losing her job. Having a job is vital because it reduces dependency; for instances, Ehrenreich stays with a friend for a while then finds a job of her own which even though pays little makes her independent.  The steps taken by Ehrenreich have enlightened the US citizens and the government on the conditions faced by the low-wage workers, especially women.

Women are the most victims of low wages. From Ehrenreich’s experience, her colleagues were women- indicating feminization of poverty. For example, Holly and Marge are her colleagues in Maine and Melisa in Minnesota. Based on Ehrenreich encounter in the three cities, it is evident that the low-wage workers live a poor life because they barely afford the basic needs. As a result, low-wage workers spend many hours working in order to make ends meet after reforming the welfare act.

Welfare ensured that the poor got basic needs- an exercise that saw many poor individuals reluctant to look for jobs. Although, it bridged the gap between the haves and the have-nots, it encouraged laziness among the poor. Welfare reform Act embraces employment even for the poor; however, it does not alleviate poverty among the poor due to the low wages.     

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