Something that struck me after reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s novel, Nickel and Dimed, is how naïve I am about the struggles of the minimum wage working class. I have been fortunate enough to live a life where both of my parents earn more than minimum wage, and I have therefore had many luxuries in my life that I often overlook. While reading about Ehrenreich recalling her pain and suffering from jobs she always thought were simple, I too discovered “that no job, no matter how lowly, is truly ‘unskilled’” (193).
When Ehrenreich starts on her assignment she is nervous, but in the back of her mind she figures that a woman in her fifties with a Ph.D. will not have too many problems working minimum wage jobs. She talks of how she expects at least one of her supervisors to notice that she is different or tell her that she is special. In regards to someone complimenting her, Ehrenreich states, “But this never happened, I suspect because the only thing that really made me ‘special’ was my inexperience” (8). This is one of many surprises that come Ehrenreich’s way. She also discovers the numerous hardships that minimum wage workers go through. Through her own struggles with the economy and a number of physical problems and through the stories of most of her coworkers, Ehrenreich makes two main conclusions. First, she realizes that in order for someone to pay all of his or her bills, it is almost necessary to hold more than one job or to be homeless. Second, she discovers that many health issues can arise while working a low wage job that many people would not anticipate. Like Ehrenreich, I am surprised at the outcome of her experiment, and it has caused me to rethink my attitude toward many people.
As hard as it is to admit, I cannot recall how many times I have gotten angry with a waitress for forgetting to bring something to my table, or how many times I have looked around a department store and thought, “Where are the employees and why is...