Early in chapter one of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Barbara Ehrenreich notes that, in terms of low‐wage work, “the want ads are not a reliable measure of the actual...

Early in chapter one of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Barbara Ehrenreich notes that, in terms of low‐wage work, “the want ads are not a reliable measure of the actual jobs available at any particular time.” Explain why this is so. 

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Barbara Ehrenreich is a writer who decides to see what it is like for a person without a college degree or training (things she does have in her actual life) to live solely by working minimum-wage jobs in different parts of the country. She documents her findings in her book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America.

In the first chapter of the book Ehrenreich starts her search in Key West, Florida. After she rents a rather questionable place to live, she begins her job hunting. She fills out applications at many different kinds of places based on the want ads, but after a few fruitless days of searching she discovers the truth about these ads. 

Only later will I realize that the want ads are not a reliable measure of the actual jobs available at any particular time. They are, as I should have guessed..., the employers' insurance policy against the relentless turnover of the low-wage workforce. Most of the big hotels run ads almost continually, if only to build a supply of applicants to replace the current workers as they drift away or are fired, so finding a job is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and flexible enough to take whatever is being offered that day.

Obviously, at least in Key West at this time, the want ads are nothing more than a list of places which have hired in the past and will undoubtedly do so again in the future; however, for now none of those jobs are available. It is one of the first lessons she learns on this journey across America.

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