What is the author’s purpose in Nickel and Dimed?

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stolperia's profile pic

stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Barbara Ehrenreich wrote Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America to record her first hand research experiences as she attempted to live the life and work the jobs of the working poor in the United States. While this was not strictly the gathering of objective scientific data, the challenges she encountered and the people, both employers and fellow employees, were very representative of the kinds of situations faced by the underemployed.

Corporate decision makers, and even some two-bit entrepreneurs like my boss at The Maids, occupy an economic position miles above that of the underpaid people whose labor they depend on.

The purpose of the book was to introduce the reader to the plight of those who work service jobs for long hours, inadequate pay, and no benefits.

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ms-charleston-yawp's profile pic

Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

I actually have a different opinion than the educator above.  Although I do agree that Ehrenreich provides an amazing first-hand research experience of her plight as an underpaid worker, I don't think her main purpose was to provide the research or even reveal the plight.  In my opinion, Ehrenreich's main purpose was to prove that, due to the greed of corporate America, one is unable to "get by" in America while working a minimum wage job mostly because the minimum wage does not provide a "living wage."

What you don't necessarily realize when you start selling your time by the hour is that what you're really selling is your life.

Ehrenreich presents an entrepreneurial society that is dependent on greed in the upper echelons of business. Even locally owned businesses and/or franchise owners can be accused of this sin of greed. I will never forget reading the section where Ehrenreich was attempting to work as a maid was shocked at her training. What she was trained in was a facade instead of quality service. She was always told to strive for "the appearance of clean" instead of actual cleanliness. It is only a few days later that she is crammed into the car with other low-income earners as they traveled to their jobs for the day. One woman was so very sick that she could hardly stand, yet she had to complete her job in order to feed her family. Here Ehrenreich gives a beautiful speech about the sacrifice of low-income wage earners:

When someone works for less pay than she can live on — when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently — then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The 'working poor,' as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society.

In conclusion, it is important to note that Ehrenreich wants to expose corporate America for what it is: greedy. Further, her main purpose is to show that lower class workers are unable to survive in this crushing environment. Ehrenreich is purposely exposing only one side of her argument, but keep in mind she is giving a voice to those who usually have none.

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