Sunday, September 27, 2009

Nickled and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

From the author's website: Millions of Americans work for poverty-level wages, and one day Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that any job equals a better life. But how can anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 to $7 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich moved from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, taking the cheapest lodgings available and accepting work as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart salesperson. She soon discovered that even the "lowliest" occupations require exhausting mental and physical efforts. And one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors.

This book caught my interest right away. I loved reading about the ins and outs of all the different jobs. I identified with Barbara's idea that her co-workers should have recognized her as a fraud right away and her humility when she realized that all they saw was a waitress, who wasn't very good! I confess I've had days when I wished my job was more contained - that I could stock the shelves or wait the tables and go home at the end of the day without giving it another thought. (Like the whine here.) But this book opened my eyes to the idea that that doesn't happen because #1 you aren't going home but are probably going to your second job and #2 there are plenty of things to worry about like housing and child care and transportation - all things we take for granted. Since reading this book I have made a concerted effort to be kinder to the minimum wage employees that I do business with. Only the second day into my efforts, I had an experience with a Wal-Mart clerk and when I countered her rude attitude with a kind word, she turned it around and we both walked away happy. Compare that to the time just a few weeks ago when I not only "lit into" the clerk but also called the manager and complained - ooh boy, embarrassing. This is still taking real effort on my part - I am of the school that any job you do, you should do to the best of your ability, and that often seems to run contrary to the work climate in the South, but I'm trying.


bermudaonion said...

I love books like this! My mom always told me to "kill them with kindness" and I'm here to tell you it almost always works.

RAnn said...

I enjoyed this book too! It really does show how hard it is to get ahead if you don't start out as a diplomaed member of the middle class