low wages and nickel and dimed

What struck me the most about Nickel and Dimed (especially in the introduction) had to do with a recent article in the AM New York Newspaper. According to the article, New York housing is unaffordable considering the stagnant income and rising rent. In the Bronx alone, there is more than fifty percent of people paying rent that they can’t afford. Ehrenreich conducted her experiment in 1998. AM New York made the claim that the housing affordability has worsened since 2000. Though Ehrenreich’s experiment took place in Key West, Florida, it could be thought that the pricing ranges were at least somewhat similar.

People working in “unskilled” jobs are paid the least amount of money despite dealing with the most work. They are forced to take a very low income that hardly pays their bills or feeds their families. Many have to work more than one job. What Ehrenreich’s book does is bring the issues of poverty-stricken workers to the forefront of people’s imaginations. What happens to people in these jobs is that they become invisible to anyone else. Ehrenreich even makes a similar observation when she is worried that people might see her and she will have to explain her experiment (11). As a waitress, or a cleaning person, hardly anyone sees you as a person. As far as anyone is aware, these workers could be decorations and part of the scenery. All they are is their job, that is what defines them, and to everyone else around them they don’t have an individual identity.

The very fact that they are given the lowest pay for some of the hardest jobs, shows how unfairly the capitalist system works. Minimum wage is supposed to be the least amount of money one can earn in order to survive. However, a seven dollar minimum wage can hardly pay for rent and groceries, as demonstrated by Ehrenreichs struggle to find an affordable living space. This is relevant right now since most apartments for one bedroom alone is over one thousand dollars. Someone working one job at minimum wage would never be able to pay for it. The low wage worker would need several jobs to pay anything at all. Waitresses are paid below minimum wage and must rely on tips, or else they are forced to rely on an employer that already fails to pay them in the first place.


“Even though I expected from the starts the mathematics of wages and rents were working against me, I made a mighty effort to succeed” which is exactly how low wage workers think(12).


One thought on “low wages and nickel and dimed

  1. Yes, however bad things are for BE in, say, Minneapolis in 1999, they are much, much more challenging in a 2014 NYC, where rents/home prices never really went down, neighborhoods across the five boroughs have gentrified rapidly, and wages are, if not as low as other places, not nearly high enough on the bottom end to compensate for the massive cost of living associated with housing.

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