This week’s literature comes from Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed. The essay writer goes undercover as a low income non-skilled worker to learn how to, financially, survive. This experiment took place during travels from Florida, Maine and Minnesota (Ehrenreich, 2017). The writer found a place to live and a job in each state. The duration of each experiment was said to last for a month and was to determine how a non-skilled worker can survive off low income and still afford to pay rent for the next month. During the text, we learn about a co-worker named Marge who suffers from personal ailments that conflict with her line of work.
The first experiment took place in Key West, Florida since it was close to Ehrenreich’s home. There, she finds a job as a waitress at a diner and rents a trailer home. The low wages received from waiting tables is inadequate for survival and rent. So, she acquires a second job where she works as a maid for a hotel. Ehrenreich finds that having two jobs was too taxing, physically, for her so she discontinues working for the hotel after just one day of work. Her job as a waitress became much too difficult for her, and Ehrenreich quits her job before completing her first month’s experiment (Ehrenreich,2017).
The next experiment took places in Portland, Maine. Ehrenreich was hired with a housekeeping service called The Maids. Since the prior experiment proved necessary to hold two jobs for enough income, she took on another job as a dietary aid in a nursing home. With the two jobs she worked, she found herself working seven days a week. The housekeeping job had become physically demanding, inadequately paid, which lead Ehrenreich to feel disrespected and highly degraded. During this experiment, one of her co-working maids injures herself at work. Ehrenreich tells the youngest maid to stop working and tries to prevent the maids’ work. Ehrenreich fight for justice failed, however she won a day off for the worker who became injured after complaining to the manager. Ehrenreich gets curious to know if the supervisors care to know of the distress required to make a perfectly clean home. The position as a dietary aid was to manage the Alzheimer’s unit by herself. She was so afraid that if she made a mistake she could cause harm to the patients there (Ehrenreich,2017).
After Portland, Maine, she goes onto Minneapolis, Minnesota. However, in Minnesota there is a low availability of homes, so she has difficulty finding a place to live. Ehrenreich finds a job working as a “soft lines” personnel at the local Wal-Mart where she puts stray clothing back in the correct clothing department rack. She finally finds somewhere to live but she is consistently worried about the door that doesn’t have bolts. So, she ends up moving to a hotel that is more suitable (Ehrenreich,2017).
After Ehrenreich leaves each job, she tells some co-workers that she trusts that she is working undercover to write a book about her experiences. She surprisingly notices that none of them seem interested in her reveal. However, she understands that the workers are too busy minding their own situation and circumstances as low-wage worker (Ehrenreich,2017).
Ehrenreich’s conclusion beings with an evaluation where she critiques her performance at each job. Thus, she notices that each position required cognitive and physical skills she was unaware she needed. She decides that her effort and performance meet the requirements and was not above average. She notes that places she worked in were difficult due to the politics of the work place. However, she notes that if she had continued working at some of the places she worked in would have awarded her raises in position and wages (Ehrenreich,2017).
In contrast, Ehrenreich discovers that places are competitive. She notes that the cost of living surpasses income. She notes that low income housing opportunities are going away which forces people to live farther away just to be crammed into an inadequate spaced apartment. She realizes that labor shortage was anticipated to yield increased wages yet had no effect on the types of income she was able to acquire. She also discovered schemes employers used to maintain low wages that enticed employees to return to their jobs. She believed drug test requirements were used to belittle employees which forced them to have low self-esteem. She notes that The Maid offered free breakfast but refused to increase pay due to understaffing. Most places Ehrenreich worked opposed fraternization in the work places which prevented employees from venting to one another or organizing against supervisors (Ehrenreich,2017).
Ehrenreich concluded that due to limited opportunities for low-wage workers created difficulties finding more suitable paying jobs. She discovered that individuals from the lower end of the economy suffered from many issues and that by adjusting their place of dwelling would be far more difficult. She states that the main ploy of employer’s desire to maintain low wages derive from low-self esteem plots she found at each job. This includes the random drug screenings, inappropriate communication from management, and false accusations. Thus, making her feel child like rather than the 50-year-old woman she really was and deserved to be treated as (Ehrenreich,2017).
In Portland, Maine Ehrenreich meets a woman named Marge whom she worked with as a fellow housekeeper at The Maids. Marge is the oldest of the housekeepers, and very talkative. Marge suffers from arthritis which makes it painful for her to execute her tasks and is told several times that she appears tired. On the weekends Marge indulges in Excedrin, Advil and cigarettes accompanied by alcohol (Ehrenreich,2017).
In one instance, Ehrenreich and The Maid co-workers were in a car talking about them loathing for their jobs. Ehrenreich utilizes this scene to help illustrate why they don’t retaliate or submit complaints pertaining to their unfair working conditions. Thus, their manager had created a group of loyalty, which worked to his advantage. This is because he can treat them any kind of way, he can also make them feel like they are wanted so they stay (Ehrenreich,2017).
As a social worker I would assist Marge by taking an assessment of her existing skills. Next, I would analyze her skill level and match them with any applicable jobs that may be more suitable for her work and life balance and less strenuous on her health. Finally, once I was able to find her a few matches and was able to find some she was willing to accept I would aide her in providing documentation of her notice to vacate her current job due to arthritis. Furthermore, I would offer her a term of weekly sessions of psychotherapy for therapeutic services and offer any remedies possible to help alleviate her stressors at home, including medication if necessary.
There is an insurmountable feeling that describes how it feels to be poor. The role of the working poor in society is to contribute to the labor demand. Labor demanding jobs include a wide range of tasks such as painting, carpentry, housekeeping, hospitality services, retail, and more, just to name a few. The working poor are must find ways to be creative, faithful and must utilize extensive budgeting skills to survive. For the individuals that truly want to escape poverty, one must be strong-willed, must be willing to succeed and ready to take a few bumps and bruises to make it to the finish line, strong.
- Ehrenreich, B. (2017). Nickel and dimed: On (not) getting by in America. New York: A Metropolitan book.
The Experiment In The Book Nickel And Dimed
In her work Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich writes about a very interesting experiment she conducted. Welfare reform was a hot topic at the time, and Ehrenreich wondered if single mothers would be able to take care of themselves and their children while working low-wage jobs. Thus, Ehrenreich herself decides to see if she can live this way. She does set up some parameters, however—she will not go hungry or be homeless, and she could not use her skills from her everyday, usual work. Although difficult, she learned some valuable lessons from this experience.
The author chooses three cities in the United States to be her experimental locations. She first goes to Key West, Florida. She ends up waitressing at a restaurant that was also part of a hotel. Hearthside, as it was called, required lots of work (2:00 to 10:00 pm) and after only a few days of working, problems arose. Management was terrible and the job did not pay enough for her to cover her expenses. Ehrenreich soon leaves to another waitressing job at a place called Jerry’s. This was no better—the work was exhausting and she soon quit. In the midst of all this, she moves into a trailer closer to her work to cut down on driving expenses. She also gets a job as a housekeeper, but finds it even more hectic than being a waitress—she had to clean 19 rooms in one day (p. 29).
Eventually, Ehrenreich moves to Portland, Maine. After much searching, she eventually gets a job at the Blue Haven Motel. Even though it was not as bad as waitressing, she soon gets another job that she can make more money in. She becomes a dietary aide at Woodcrest Residential Facility, where she gets paid $7 an hour. She also works for The Maids—a housecleaning service so she can increase her wages even more. Unfortunately, Ehrenreich learns that for her—the working poor—there is little assistance. She met many rude, unhelpful people who were unwilling to provide her with much support.
The last place Ehrenreich moves to is Minneapolis, Minnesota. She lands a job at Wal-Mart as well as a houseware store called Menards. However, due to an exhausting 8-hour orientation at Wal-Mart, she soon bails on Menards and sticks solely to Wal-Mart. The author is also experiencing a hard time finding proper housing. She eventually stays at a hotel, but it is too expensive for her budget—a whopping $295 a week—however, she did not have any other choice. To end this journey, she helps organize a union at her job at Wal-Mart, but due to financial problems, she lets the experiment come to a close.
Even though this was not easy task, Ehrenreich learned a lot from her experiment. She stated that even though her work was hard and tiring, she did not think she did a bad job. “I didn’t do half-bad at the work itself, but my track record in the survival department is far less admirable” (Ehrenreich, 2001, p. 108). She also states that even though these are considered “unskilled” forms of labor, no job is truly unskilled. It is a shame that low-wage workers do such hard effort but rarely get appreciated for the work they do. On top of that, they work incredibly hard but barely have enough money to get by.
As stated above, there are certain parameters that Ehrenreich set for herself in order to conduct this experiment. She had to spend one month in Key West, Portland, and Minneapolis. She wanted to see if she could last the month with enough money to pay for rent the next month. When searching for a job, she was not allowed to fall back on her skills she learned from her usual work. She was also required to take the highest paying job that was offered to her, and she had to try her best to keep it. When it came to living arrangements, Ehrenreich had to try to find someplace safe and private, but for the cheapest amount possible (p. 9-10).
There was a privilege, however, of being merely an “observer.” If Ehrenreich could not pay for the next month’s rent, she could quit and go to the next place. Also, she could not be homeless, go hungry, and she could have a car. As readers can see, things did not always go as planned. There are certain instances where the author bent the rules for herself. For one, she used the skills from her actual education to promote herself to an interviewer at a waitressing job, saying she could, “greet European tourists with the appropriate Bonjour or Guten Tag” (p. 10). Another time, when she was in Minneapolis, she broke the rules by not taking the best paying job that was offered to her. Finally, Ehrenreich actually had to end the experiment early because she did not have enough funds left to pay for her expensive hotel.
In each new city, Ehrenreich manages to survive as a single woman. For example, at the beginning of the book, we see that Ehrenreich really wanted a housekeeping job in a hotel (p.11). However, she cannot find one and settles for a job as a waitress. Although this was not her ideal, she picks a job she can find in order to pay the bills. Also, if it turned out that she was not able to make ends meet, she would take on another job to make more money. For example, as stated earlier in the paper, even while working at the hotel, Ehrenreich takes on another job—working as a housekeeper, like she had been planning from the start.
When her month would come to an end, and she would have to move again, and Ehrenreich had to find new jobs each time. While working at Woodcrest Residential Facility in Maine, Ehrenreich manages to survive in another way—using her skills of connecting with other people. For example, a man named Pete was the ward’s cook. He exercised his power over all the dietary aides, including Ehrenreich. Rather than dealing with Pete’s power-hungry attitude, Ehrenreich decides to try to befriend him and make him like her; she even tells him that she is single (p. 39-40). This job was easier to Ehrenreich than her other job at Jerry’s. It seems that using people skills helped make life a bit easier for her in this environment.
I believe Ehrenreich’s survival would have been different if she was a single mother with children. First, she would have more mouths to feed, not just her own. She would also need to have money to clothe and clean her children. If she wanted them to get an education, she could send them to public school so she would not have to pay a tuition; however, she may still need to buy school supplies for her kids. Having kids as a single mother ultimately means that Ehrenreich would have to budget out more money for necessities. However, if she had difficulty surviving on her own with the jobs she was doing, it would be so much harder with others to care for. She may need to go to a food pantry or soup kitchen in order to save money on food. Thrift shops or Goodwill would probably be where she would get clothes for herself and her children. Housing would be tough too; perhaps she could find a good friend to stay with and pay rent, since it was already difficult for her to pay rent on her own with her other jobs. Whatever the case, having children with her would make things exponentially tougher.
As one can see from the book, Ehrenreich is a single female trying to make it on her own. As a woman, she is expected to have “domestic” roles such as cleaning her home and cooking. However, she also needs to work in order to provide for herself. This parallels what we have learned in class about the postmodern family. In class, we have learned that postmodern families are different than the idealized modern family. In an ideal world, the father was the breadwinner and the mother was at home cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children. However, postmodern parents both worked. The father even took on more domestic work such as helping his wife around the home. Many children also lived at home, even as adults.
In class, we also learned that the Great Recession caused certain trends in poor and working class families. For example, people started marrying later and postponing having kids. This makes sense because it saves money. Again, we can relate this to the book. Ehrenreich is surviving her experiment on her own. She is not doing it with a husband, and definitely not with any kids tailing after her. It is hard enough to take care of oneself, let alone, an entire family. This is why it makes sense that she is flying solo.
This book was a really interesting read. It was fascinating to see how Barbara Ehrenreich decides to conduct this experiment and see if she can survive month to month on such low-waged jobs. The most inspiring thing I learned can be summed up by this quote: “Something is wrong, very wrong… when a single person in good health, a person who in addition possesses a working car, can barely support herself by the sweat of her brow” (p. 109). This is so heartbreaking to me. So many people work so hard, doing exhausting, backbreaking work, but they can never seem to make ends meet. Something is wrong, and I hope, one day, things will change for the better. I hope there is a day where everyone, no matter the job they have, will be able to have enough money to live comfortably by themselves, or with a family.
The Story Of Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson was a solo artist, dubbed the “King of Pop”, who was active from the years of 1964, when he debuted as a member of the pop group “The Jackson 5” with his brothers, to 2002, when he passed away. Throughout those years Jackson had an extremely successful career, both in the group and as a soloist. According to the Guinness World Records, Jackson’s solo career was so successful that his album, Thriller, which was released in 1982, sold over 66 million copies worldwide making it the best-selling album of all time. Jackson was an inspiration to many people around the world, and still continues to be an inspiration today.
While Jackson was an inspiration to others, he had many people who influenced and inspire him as well. Jackson was influenced by R&B artists, musicals such as West Side Story. His biggest influence was the musician James Brown. Jackson spoke at James Brown’s funeral, saying “James Brown was my greatest inspiration. Ever since I was a small child, no more than like six years old, my mother would wake me no matter what time it was, if I was sleeping, no matter what I was doing, to watch the television to see the master at work.” Jackson was inspired not only by the music of James Brown but also by his dancing, Jackson’s music and lyrics were also influenced by his past experiences.
Many speculate that Jacksons song Beat It (1982), was inspired by West Side Story. They are indeed similar as both involve gangs, violence, and a knife fight which seems completely choreographed. However according to the director Bob Giraldi, this isn’t true. Instead the music video itself is inspired by actual gang fights, and gang violence. During the times when Beat It was released, there was an issue with gang violence in America, which led to the creation of this video. Jackson pulled a lot from society and what was happening around him in the world as inspiration, and Beat It is just one example of this.
Michael Jackson’s music itself is very simplistic and is very similar to rock that is heard in modern rock. Having music this simplistic is extremely helpful to audiences who listen to it however, as it is easier to enjoy the music if there is not a lot going on. The instruments typically consist of a guitar, bass, keyboard and drums. The instruments throughout most of the songs are playing the same notes and following the same beat pattern. However, one important thing to note is that in some of Jacksons songs there’s a guitar solo, which is very similar to a lot of the rock music at the time. An example of this would be the song Beat It, in which after the bridge of the song there’s a guitar soloist before the vocalist, in this case Michael Jackson, returns and continues to sing the chorus of the song.
Jackson’s music also follows the same structure which was: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. This was very similar to many rock and pop songs that were released around the same time. A good example of this structure would be Jacksons song “Thriller” (1982). The switches between the verses and the choruses are very similar to one another, as well as the jump from the chorus to the bridge, in which Vincent Price narrates. While Jacksons music was very simplistic in the style and structure, the sound was much different to other rock music being released, for example punk rock or folk rock. The music itself was not as harsh and had a much softer sound to it. H
While Jacksons music itself was very simplistic, it had a lot of meaning behind it. Whether it be based on violence like Beat it or on his other personal experiences, there was meaning behind the songs he wrote. Jackson was without a doubt one of the most successful artists of all time, both solo and in a group, and the meanings and the music helped contribute to that.
- “Best-Selling Album.” Guinness World Records, Guinness World Records, www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/70133-best-selling-album.
- “Bob Giraldi on Directing ‘Beat It.’” Childhood :: True Michael Jackson, www.truemichaeljackson.com/true-stories/bob-giraldi-on-directing-beat-it/.
- “Who Inspired Michael Jackson?” Michael Jackson, 16 Feb. 2013, darrencostello1.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/who-inspired-michael-jackson/.