Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Nickel and Dimed

Since most of you missed the on-campus discussion groups of Nickel and Dimed, let's try a blog discussion of the book instead.

Here are some discussion questions pulled from the reader's guide at the back of the book, along with one or two of my own. Pick a couple questions you relate to and post your comments. Feel free to add your own questions or respond to previous comments.

* Have you ever held down two jobs to make ends meet? What is the lowest paying job you ever held, and what kind of help -- if any -- did you need to improve your situation?

* Have your perceptions of poverty and prosperity been changed by reading this book? How about your treatment of low-wage workers, such as waiters, maids and salespeople?

* Housing costs pose the greatest obstacle for low-wage workers, especially in places like the Bay Area. How have you dealt with the high cost of housing? Do you believe there are realistic solutions to the lack of affordable housing?

* Ehrenreich is white and middle class. She thinks her experience would have been different if she'd been a woman of color or a single parent. Do you? In what way?

* The workers in Nickel and Dimed receive almost no benefits. Is this fair? Do you think an increase in wages (say, to a so-called "living wage") would help make up for the lack of benefits...or is this a completely different problem?

* Nickel and Dimed takes place in 1998-2000, a time when the economy was booming. Do you think Ehrenreich's experience would be different in today's economy? How so?

* After reading Nickel and Dimed, do you think that the lower-income people who were recently evacuated from News Orleans and other damaged coastal cities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina will be able to afford to return?

If you'd like more information on Nickel and Dimed...or if you'd like you'd like to hear Barbara Ehrenreich talk about the book or read what others have said about it...or if you'd just like the "Cliff Notes" version of the book, here are some links to check out:
* The Nickel and Dimed web site, maintained by the Institute for Policy Studies, has links to a number of articles, interviews and resources related to the book
* Barbara Ehrenreich interview on Weekend Edition (NPR) interview, May 19, 2001 -- audio file


Nicole H. said...

* The workers in Nickel and Dimed receive almost no benefits. Is this fair? Do you think an increase in wages (say, to a so-called "living wage") would help make up for the lack of benefits...or is this a completely different problem?

It is not fair that the employees in Nickel and Dimed did not receive medical benefits. These workers have physically demanding jobs that create potential physical and emotional injury. The employees should have the opportunity to seek medical attention at an affordable price when they need it.
An increase in wages would only solve part of the problem. Today, it seems rare to receive medical benefits from an employer. The employer follows certain rules that restrict benefits for employees. For example, I work in a production department. Even though I often work 20 hours per week, my medical benefits are not assured. As a full time student who works part time at $14.00 an hour, it is barely manageable to pay rent, pay for groceries, and pay for school supplies. Adding insurance costs to the list of expenses increases the financial strain.
With the increases in medical insurance costs, it seems almost impossible for a middle class family to include monthly medical payments in an already large list of monthly bills. Because medical procedures and medical insurance have become so expensive, employers seem less likely to offer medical benefits to their employees, which makes it almost impossible for a middle class family to afford medical insurance and have money left over. If employers offered medical benefits, I do believe the problem for employees would be less severe. I do not see this happening any time soon because health care has become too expensive for employers to offer medical benefits to its employees. If the price of medical procedures decreased, more employers would be willing to offer fully paid medical benefits to their employees.

casey fedde said...

Have your perceptions of poverty and prosperity been changed by reading this book? How about your treatment of low-wage workers, such as waiters, maids and salespeople?

A previous comment stated that employers should offer fully paid medical benefits to their employees. I agree. However, I do feel that this might create additional problems in the medical field. Since more people would be seeking medical treatment, hospitals and clinics would have to be able to provide the needed care, which could put a strain on the use of their funding/money and on their staff. More hospital workers would be needed, which would create more jobs, but would also cost more. This is a vicious cycle! Overall, I do feel that at least some medical benefits should be provided to all employees.

After reading Nickel and Dimed, I realized how awful it must be to be poor and trying to make ends meet. I also realized that, as bad as this may sound, society needs poor people to function. Otherwise, who would work in the cheap hotels and serve food to customers in restaurants at all hours of the night. If we were all rich and educated, there would be doctors, lawyers, and want-to-be presidents floating around everywhere. Money corrupts people. Even though Barbara might have gotten sick of her Styrofoam cups of soup and the convenience stored hot dogs, she probably learned to appreciate every meal instead of taking each one for granted.

This book really illuminated the fact that people do not treat the poor very well. Money, once again, corrupts people and takes their gratefulness away.

Stephania said...

This book really shows how difficult it is to survive when you are working at minimum wage. I can relate to what she went through, because I moved out on my own into the world when I was only seventeen years old. Financially I barely made it, and if it weren't for the help of my friends and my boyfriend at the time I don't know what I would've done. I ended up sharing a one bedroom apartment with my boyfriend for about two years and we were able to do it because with two people's incomes it was much easier to afford rent than on one income alone. I think it is common for young people or poor people to co-depend on another to get by.
In the book Barbara didn't have anyone to co-depend on. That is why it was even more difficult for her to afford a place to live, and that is why she was forced to rent rooms in motels on a weekly rate.
She is lucky that she didn't have any serious health problems while doing this experiment because without health insurance she would be in a lot of trouble. I really think that all full-time jobs should have to legally offer healthcare. It is not fair to dedicate so much time and energy and not be rewarded with basic human needs in return.

Heidi Romswinckel-Guise said...

*After reading this book, my perceptions about poverty and prosperity has definitely changed. I was blown away by the details and statistics given throughout the book about, pretty much, living from paycheck to paycheck. I have never really treated low-wage workers in a bad way really. Even while I was working at a clothing store, I felt as if customers were rude to me just because I was a "worker." They would leave clothes everywhere in the dressing rooms or talk to me rudely after I'd ask them if they needed any help. So I have never really looked at low-wage workers as being in "lower" positions. People are just trying to get by, and just because everyone is not rich in the world does not mean that they are not trying to make their way in life.
*If Ehrenreich experienced her journey as a woman of color or a single parent, it would have been very different. I hate to say it, but our country has not come very far at all with racism as we would all like to imagine. California isn't as bad as other states, but it still happens here. If she were a woman of color working those jobs, she most likely would have been looked at differently or treated differetly...especially at the time that she experienced it. Now, we have laws saying that an employer may not judge an employee for their ethnicity or race. However, I still feel that even though that is a law, employers still use it, just in a less noticable way.
And if she were a single parent, her experience would have been different as well. Not only would she have been working to get food and shelter for herself, but she would have had to worry about her child. Taking care of a baby takes a lot of effort. If she had to work all the time, she would have to pay for the child's daycare, which is expensive as she explains of one of her coworkers experience with childcare. Not only would she have to pay for childcare, but she would have to worry about feeding the child, giving the child clothing, possibly schooling and many other things. What if the child got sick? It costs money for medicines, or Health Insurance if the sickness was brought to that level. Having a child means another life that she would have to take care of. In her situation, that would have been extremely difficult.
*I'm not sure if increasing wages would take the place of benefits. Even if the wage was increased, and workers earned more money, I think that would mean that more tax money could be taken out due to the high proportion given. I'm not sure how benefits work, but I know that they are beneifical, hence the name "benefits." Increasing wages, I think, would not help out with workers. Benefits are helpful and important to workers who are especially working for low-wages. Low-waged employees should have to worry about paying for the essential things in their lives, and not have to worry about the things that benefits would be able to cover, like health insurance or dental insurance. I'm not sure what all the possible benefits are in a job, but I know that it is a big help to workers to have optional benefits with their jobs.

Charlene C. said...

To answer a few of the questions you posted:

I have held two jobs at once to make ends meet. I worked at a local gas station from 6:30- 12:30 P.M, from there I worked at a dental office as a dental concierge (1-5). It was a really exhausting experience. Honestly, I didn't have to choose this lifestyle for 2months, but I had to make some money to live off of before school started. Working at the gas station was the lowest paying job I have obtained and one that I don't think I would do again.
I'm not sure that the author would have had a different experience if she were a woman of color. According to the book, the places she chose wern't heaivly she would have to be placed in a more neutral environment to make a valid dicision. I have to say that I might have been eaiser as a single parent, but i'm not sure.

Justin OBrien said...

Housing costs pose the greatest obstacle for low-wage workers, especially in places like the Bay Area. How have you dealt with the high cost of housing? Do you believe there are realistic solutions to the lack of affordable housing?

Dealing with housing living in the Bay Area has posed one of the greatest challenges to me financially. Currently I'm paying 600 dollars a month for one room in a townhouse with 3 other people. I wouldn't mind if the place wasn't so run down but for 600 dollars you can only get so much in the sillicon valley. My rent payments usually come down to the wire since im a server at a restaurant and attempt to live a normal life as well as keep my girlfriend's expensive tastes happy. for example its 11:55 at night and I'm just getting off of work to fulfill all those needs.
As for solutions to the living situations here in the sillicon valley one of them which I am doing is live with several people. Although this alternative isn't the most convienent to most it has helped myself save money. There's also the "Section 8" housing which is available to low income families in most apartment complexes. If more low income housing were to be built it could help a lot more families and other people not as well off survive. Besides building more there really isn't anything realistic considering just how expensive everything is around here. Even if you were to find cheaper housing you would still have to find a way to pay for any kinds of goods that are way more expensive here then almost anywhere else in the country. Now due to lack of sleep I plan to start my vicious cycle all over again tomorrow and attempt to get by.

Rocio Grajeda said...

*Have you ever held down two jobs to make ends meet? What is the lowest paying job you ever held, and what kind of help -- if any -- did you need to improve your situation?

My father was working two jobs at one point. It was extremely difficult because he was working from 5:00am to 12:00 am. It was painful for me because I knew that he was always very tired, and that made me sad. I feel for anyone who does have to work two jobs.

The lowest paying job that I have ever worked paid me six dollars an hour. It was bad money, but I was in high school at the time and they were very flexible with the hours, so it had it's good sides.

Kao Saechao said...

How can the government possibly allow this to happen to it's own people? It is sad to know that the world's richest country doesn't step in to fix these issues. It is a heart felt issue when people have to work 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet. I remember running into a homeless man in L.A. last summer. He had come over from Hawaii to work. Once he got laid off he was virtually left with nothing. he couldn't get by and ended up being homeless. My friend and I gave him some money. I gave him $20 and my friend was kind enough to give him $50 as long as he promised to use the money to get back home to Hawaii. My friend gave him his number and to have the homeless man to give him a call when or if ever he gets back home to hawaii. 8 months later he called and told my friend he made it back. He had scrapped up every dollar he saved up and bought a ticket back home to Hawaii. He is now staying with his mom. The man was in his middle ages, I'd say arond mid 30's. Knowing that he made it back with the help we gave him nearly made me cry. Getting back to the point, I just don't the government does enough to help the people in most need. They have become to pre-occupied in whether they will be elcted or not. There should be a living allowance for all jobs in all counties that helps meet the criteria for standard living. To have these people who work for low paying jobs to not receive benefits is like a slap in the face. There needs to be more done because no one should spend their whole life working. That shouldn't be what life is about, although it is survival of the fittest.

Jackson said...

The book showed the how hard it is to live below the poverty line in America in recent times. In this way, Nickel and Dimed read more like a novel than a documentary. Even though Ehreneich worked the low-paying jobs and lived in the cheapest places she could find, the book was driven by the indivdual stories of her co-workers.
The last page of the book promised a change in the future where the people she had the privilage to work alongside would be honored. Something similar to that will probably happen in the future, but my guess is that it will just be an increase in minimum wage, which has its misunderstandings as an entirely seperate discussion. Unfortunately, there will always be an under-class that works hard for less in capitalistic societies.
But it is evident that people are able to survive living in poverty, and many do so in good spirits. Some people are simply content with what they have and others express hope about the future. It shows how widely poverty is being accepted in America. It should be that the idea of poverty gets rejected.

Ryan B. said...

This book painted a picture for me as to just how this problem goes by unnoticed. These people work ungodly hours so that we can get what we need more conveniently, and I believe they deserve better.
It is a shame that so few receive any benefits, because I think that is the least a company could do for its employees. The thought of a living wage sounds very nice, however I'm sure there would be many complications before being able to acheive something such as that.
The economy does not seem to be booming so much anymore, so I do believe that Ehrenreich would have more difficulty in todays time.
This makes me wonder what would happen for those evacuated from New Orleans. Many of them were in poverty, and I doubt many of them will be able to return because of the destruction, it would all just be too costly for them.