Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America

by Barbara Ehrenreich
Start Free Trial

What is an example of prejudice or discrimination in relation to social class in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In writing her book, Barbara Ehrenreich went undercover, working as a housemaid, grocery store clerk, and waitress in order to discover the difficulties that face the American lower-class workers. Although her narrative focuses on the travails of the working class generally, Ehrenreich focuses specifically on the plight of women who cannot lead normal, healthy lives by simply working minimum-wage employment. Women experience discrimination in the minimum-wage workplace both because of the difficulty of meeting the intensity demanded by these kinds of jobs—meeting productivity levels and picking up the slack when colleagues are not available—as well as the low compensation, which prohibits most women from even meeting their basic survival needs.

One specific example of discrimination comes through in Ehrenreich’s chapter “Selling in Minnesota.” While applying for a retail job at Walmart, the interviewer, Roberta, warns her not to “waste your time or ours,” meaning that if Ehrenreich is not able to pass a drug test that there would be no chance of her landing the job. At the most fundamental level, this criterion is a form of discriminatory hiring policy, as for many low-income households, Walmart is the last, and usually the only, resort when searching for employment. But sociological research has shown that drug use proliferates at a higher frequency for people who are in poverty, for any large number of reasons. In a sense, the extreme rigidity of Walmart’s drug policy does discriminate against the impoverished applicants as a class, as it is within this class that drug use is the most difficult to avoid.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team