"You don't need a degree in economics to see that wages are too low and rents too high"
—Barbara Ehrenreich Nickel and Dimed
I recently finished the book Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, and boy, was it a doozy. Vanessa had picked up a copy sometime last year and did her own perusing through, yet it took me a while to come around and read it. However, I really can't tell you how glad I am that I did, because everything about this read was enlightening from start to finish.
Think of it as class undercover reportage at it's finest. Ehrenreich decided to join the millions of Americans who work full-time for poverty-level wages, and see how they prosper, or better yet, simply get by, on $6-7 per hour. Ehrenreich made her way through four different spots: Minnesota, Portland, Maine, and the Florida Keys. She immersed herself into this life of trying to make it work on minimum wage. This means she needed to find lodging—usually an efficiency, a motel, or a low-income housing development. She survived on fast-food mostly, as that was all she could afford. Plus, she found jobs (despite having a PhD, mind you) for the working wage norm (only at most receiving around $7-8 an hour). What Ehrenreich proved through this investigative journalism is that trying to make it work in society on poverty-levels wages, were barely possible. God forbid any emergencies pop up, you're in the hole. As Ehrenreich astutely observes, "you don't need a degree in economics to see that wages are too low and rents too high".
The book was written many, many years ago, so things have since changed, ie: minimum wage has increased since. However, I will recommend this book to anyone willing to glimpse into the life of a minimum-wage worker, the struggles they face, and the little help they receive.
Cheap living has been a choice that Vanessa and I have made in order to reduce the amount of hours we worked in order to pay for things we really didn't need. But this book aided in a quick reminder that not everyone has that choice to make. That when we consider it cheap living, some might consider it poor living, or just barely getting by. We're lucky to be in a position that we're able to whittle down our belongings and necessities, however, for some, that's all they can afford.
We haven't had the most glamorous of jobs either throughout the last year of our RV living. I remember an instance in Austin, Texas when we were working the Formula One event. Vanessa and I were assigned to the Owner's Box, where a lot of high profile folks found solace from the rest of society by watching the race front and center in a separate box, fixed with an open bar and free food flowing. You needed an invitation to the Owner's Box, but also needed to pay quite a bit of money for tickets. Besides the fact Vanessa and I were treated like help from the very beginning, it was amazing to me how worthless we felt afterwards, because these people simply had a bit more governmental manufacturer paper in their bank accounts. Worthless enough that some guests (male included!!), during the rainstorm, would want us to walk them to their awaiting golf carts with an umbrella so that they didn't get wet. But us? Well, that was our job, right? To get wet. To sacrifice for the betterment of the wealthy. Ehrenreich said it best when she wrote, "if you're made to feel unworthy enough, you may come to think that what you're paid is what you are actually worth".
However, probably the most disappointing event from that entire weekend was when the storm was raging, winds gusting, blowing over tents, umbrellas, fixtures from the race, and a father and his son (around 8-years-old) come running up to our tent from the grandstands. They had gotten caught in the storm, soaking wet head-to-toe, with only a sheer, $0.99 poncho covering their bodies and backpacks. At the entrance, the father explained this was his son's first Formula One, and could we believe this weather? He then proceeded to ask if they could be let inside the tent, the only shelter from rain and lightning that could be found, without having to walk a mile around the track to the main grand stand, in order to dry off and let his son rest. Simply put, they turned them away. Despite the fact not half the number of people had shown up for the Owner's Box and we had more than enough towels, Moet, and canapes to go around. But this waterlogged pair just didn't quite have enough money to stand under the tent and dry off. After all, "it was an exclusive event". The pair was sent back in the rain and I watched as the father pulled his son close, protecting him from the inclement weather, but possibly feeling like a failure as a father because he didn't have "enough" to keep his son dry.
Something just didn't sit well with me after that. And it wasn't until I read Ehrenreich's excerpt where she is detailing how all of her upper-middle-class friends had hired themselves help, and the reason why she herself, never had. Ehrenreich said that hiring help was "just not the kind of relationship I want to have with another human being". My sentiments exactly.
I recommend Nickel and Dimed to everyone. It's not a tedious or long read, and I think it will be enlightening to all in some way or another. You can snag a copy by clicking on the image below.
Or simply send me your address via email and I'll send you my copy. Don't forget to let me know your thoughts after reading!
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