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”Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich

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In the book of Nickel and Dimed, the author Barbara Ehrenreich, decided to go undercover as a low wage worker. She wanted to find out how non-skilled workers made ends meet. Barbara’s goal was to find if she would be able to live off the money she earned, and by also having enough money to pay the monthly rent. This was not going to be an easy task for her; she was used to having a home, a companion, reputation, and of course an ATM card.

In June 1998, Barbara left behind everything that was either meaningful or useful to her everyday needs. She was terrified at the beginning not wanting to be revealed for who she really was, a middle-class journalist who was about to explore the world that welfare mothers were living in. Barbara settled for an efficiency of five hundred dollars a month that was thirty miles north of Key West, Florida. When Barbara started searching a low wage job she had two rules. The first one was that she could not use any skills that came from her education or regular career. The second rule was that she had to take the best paying job that was offered to her at the time, and strive for the best on maintaining it. Barbara wanted to avoid being a waitress due to the fact that when she was eighteen it would leave her “bone tired.” For approximately three days she went out and applied at local hotels and supermarkets. After those days had passed she was surprised that she had not received any calls for an interview. She later comes up with the conclusion that the wanted ads were not very sufficient on the actual jobs that were open at that time. Barbara finally lands a job at a restaurant as a waitress.

For two weeks she worked full time from two in the afternoon till ten at night, and earning only two dollars and forty-three cents plus tips. She analyzes her co-workers living conditions in order to get a better understanding on how they budget their money. For instance, ‘Gail,’ was sharing a room in a downtown house with another roommate and was paying two hundred and fifty dollars per week. After knowing how most of her co-workers live she concludes that there was a gross improvidence. Barbara realized that there were “no secret economies” that comfort the poor. On the negative side of this, there was a special cost.

For example, she stated “If you have no money for health insurance and the Hearthside’s niggardly plan kicks in only after three months – you go with routine care or prescription drugs and end up paying the price.” Since Barbara had not given up hope on landing a housekeeping job, she realized that most of the housekeepers that were already hired were immigrants from the Central European post-communist world, Spanish speakers, or African American, opposed to servers who were only English speaking. With learning how to work with people with a variety of personalities Barbara has learned to appreciate them.

In conclusion, the struggles that Barbara went through demonstrated that she put an effort to live similar to a person on welfare. One thing Barbara did discover was that, “The camaraderie of people who are, in almost all cases, far too smart and funny and caring for the work they do and the wages they’re paid.” She also mentioned, “The hope, of course, is that someday these people will come to know what they’re worth, and take appropriate action.” By Barbara stating this, it validates that she had grown to appreciate the people who she worked with, and also hoping they would value themselves and become something more than what they already were.

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