**Before I begin, I would like to note that this book deals with major political issues, mainly the debate about minimum wage. I have my own personal views and opinions about this issue; however, I do not want to offend anyone with my opinions. I will be commenting on the book and some of my personal opinions may be mentioned in this post. I would like to make it clear that I do not necessarily agree with this book or the messages found in the book. I am currently working towards the Florida Educator Accomplished Practices (FEAPs) under subheading 6, “Professional Responsibility and Ethical Conduct.” In my professional opinion, I believe that it is necessary to state this disclaimer about posting my views. I am open for discussion, including a discussion with someone who disagrees with me; however, I ask that all discussions remain professional and ethical. Thank you.**
As I have mentioned before (link to weekly reflection from 9/23/13), I have been reading the book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by In America. This book is about Barbara Enrenreich’s experiences working in minimum wage jobs in unfamiliar areas. Enrenreich sought to discover what difficulties occur when attempting to live while working at a minimum wage. Many people, including Enrenreich herself, have never experienced poverty before. Enrenreich details her journey in this book and in the very end she seems to have a small transformation based on her experiences. I would like to point out that the author performed this “experiment” in the late 1990s so a lot of the information in this book is outdated. In the tenth anniversary edition (the version that I am using), Enrenreich writes about some of the changes that occurred in the ten years that have passed as well as responses to the book in the section titled, “Afterword: Nickel and Dimed.”
The author’s main point is to reveal the hardships the working-poor face that one might not expect. Finding adequate, affordable housing, for example, was a major issue for Enrenreich and it was the main reason why she had to leave her job in Minnesota: “For purely financial reasons, my career at Wal-Mart is about to come to a sudden end anyway” (189). Enrenreich was forced to stay in a hotel which cost $49.95 a night. She was unable to find housing for a lower price, so when she discovered that she would be unable to afford her continuous stay at the hotel, she had to leave. “Could I have done better? In the St. Paul Pioneer Press of June 13, ‘Apartment rents skyrocket,’ the front-page headline declares; they’ve leaped 20.5 percent in Minneapolis in the first three months of 2000 alone, an unprecedented increase, according to local real estate experts” (Enrenreich 172).
Another issue that Enrenreich faced was finding an adequate food supply that she could afford. “I […] [seek] help one morning at a charitable agency. […] My interviewer asks if I can use some emergency food and I explain, once again, that I don’t have a refrigerator. She’ll find something, she says, and comes back with a box containing a bar of soap, a deodorant, and a bunch of fairly useless food items, from my point of view—lots of candy and cookies and a one-pound can of ham, which, without a refrigerator, I would have to eat all in one sitting” (Enrenreich 174). The difficulties that Enrenreich faces leads her to smoke and even try using illegal drugs in order to cope with the stress and the pain.
I believe that the author’s main point is applicable to my practice as a future educator is that I must realize that some of my students may come from a household which faces many of these issues and I must act appropriately and continue to respect and value everyone, whether or not they come from a situation like this. Parents may be forced to work a minimum wage job or even multiple jobs in order to stay afloat and even then the family may be struggling. As a teacher, I must realize that students may not be able to afford a long list of class supplies and the students may not have technology or books in their houses. This is not to say that I should make a judgment about these people; it is just the opposite. If I have a child in my future classroom that is unable to afford all of the classroom supplies, then I shall discreetly provide them with the tools needed to succeed. I believe that everyone can succeed, no matter what socioeconomic status (SES) they come from. Other factors such as race or gender should not affect whether or not I believe a student can succeed. I shall treat each and every person with the respect they deserve and I will work hard to make sure that my students can succeed.
There are seventeen questions listed in the back of the book. In my opinion, many of these questions are loaded questions, meaning they are set up in order to evoke a specific response (usually by making the reader fired-up and passionate about the issue or by sparking a debate/discussion between multiple readers).
I will be answering question number 16: “Nickel and Dimed takes place in 1998-200, a time of unprecedented prosperity in America. Do you think Enrenreich’s experience would be different in today’s economy? How so?”
I think that Enrenreich would have had a much harder time finding a job, let alone being able to “survive” working on minimum wage. In the book, Enrenreich noted that minimum wage increased between 1996 and 1999 from “$5.49 an hour (in 1999 dollars) in 1996 to $6.05 in 1999” (202). Although minimum wage has increased yet again to about $7.25 an hour, daily expenditures have increased as well. I believe that had Enrenreich been able to find a job, she would have found it difficult to pay for gas, food, and housing due to inflation. The unemployment rate has also increased and is currently at 7.3% for the United States of America. The unemployment rates were about 4.5% in 1998, 4.2% in 1999, and about 4% in 2000 (“Bureau”).
As Enrenreich states, “Things have gotten much worse […] since the economic downturn that began in 2008. When you read about the hardships I found people enduring while I was researching this book—the skipped meals, the lack of medical care, the occasional need to sleep in cars or vans—you should bear in mind that those occurred in the best of times. The economy was growing, and jobs, if poorly paid, were at least plentiful. In 2000, I had been able to walk into a number of jobs pretty much off the street” (228). I believe that Enrenreich would not have been able to find a job, and she agrees: “It would have been impossible to repeat my Nickel and Dimed “experiment” had I been so inclined, because I would probably have never found a job” (229).
- “Bureau of Labor Statistics.” United States Department of Labor. N.p., n.d. Web.
- Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York City: Picador, 2010. Print.
- “U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis.”Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update. N.p., n.d. Web.