For those who know me personally, you know that my favorite type of genre is fiction. I love getting lost in novels about lives that do not mirror my own – call it escapism, if you will.
However, I came across the book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich via Real Simple magazine’s No-Obligation Online Book Club. After reading the synopsis of this NONfiction book, I got online and reserved it at my local library. Within days, it was in my clutches and my NONfiction journey began.
Now, I have read a few nonfiction books before – but mostly because I HAD to for school. Nickel and Dimed was the first nonfiction book I chose to read for pleasure.
Nickel and Dimed fascinated me from the get-go because it’s one journalist’s firsthand account of her experiences working “undercover” in some of the most thankless, over-worked and under-paid jobs in America.
She posed as a waitress, a maid, a nursing home assistant, and a Wal-Mart associate working in the women’s department. In other words, she “…left her middle-class life behind to explore the true cost of low-wage living.” (realsimple.com)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as it let me enter a world that I have never known. I worked as a server during my college years, but it was mostly just for fun, spending money. The work was hard, but I enjoyed it and my 21-year-old body could handle it. However, looking back on the money I made and how tasking the work was, there is no way I could sustain that sort of job now AND be able to pay all my bills. There’s just absolutely no way.
I knew I was going to be writing my article this month about this book, so as preparation, I looked for opportunities to speak to people who are actually living a part of this “working poor” lifestyle.
I spoke with Pedro, a representative from Molly Maids, who came to my house to give me a free estimate. Pedro was adorable. He had a very thick, Spanish accent and noted all the spots in my house that he would be sure “his ladies would clean real good.” Pedro was one of those people you just want to squeeze and say, “Bless your heart.” He was sweating profusely from having been at work prior to his visit at my house. Plus, the 100 degree weather outside didn’t help. The estimate he gave me, to others, might have seemed over-priced. But after having read about the hard work housekeepers do all day, five days a week, I thought the price was just fine. I would be happy to pay it.
I also went to Wal-Mart late one night because this mama needed to get out of the house. Princess Fat Cheeks had come down with a nasty stomach bug and 24 hours of taking constant care of her required an escape. So, off to Wal-Mart at 10:30pm I went! After I had loaded up my cart, I got in line and struck up a conversation with the cashier. We’ll call him Jeremy. He rang up all my items at a glacial pace (which normally would have annoyed me), but since it was not crowded and actually quiet at Wal-Mart, I took this opportunity to chat him up.
“So, it’s 11:30pm. When did you get here and when do you get off work?” I asked. He told me he gets to work at 10pm and leaves at 7am. He prefers the night shift though, because he doesn’t “have to just stay at his register.” He is able to walk around, organize the shelves, restock inventory, etc. He likes doing this? I thought. I then asked, “So, when do you sleep?” His answer shocked me. He said he gets off work at 7am then heads home to swap off kid duty with his wife, who works all day. He says he sleeps when his oldest daughter takes her nap from noon until 2pm and then he can sneak in another quick nap when his wife gets off work at 5pm. “So, you sleep about 5 hours on and off in a 24-hour period?” I asked. “Yup,” he said. “It’s hard.” No kidding.
Having been fed with a silver spoon my whole life, this kind of hard work for no money is very foreign to me. I don’t say that as a snob; I say this with compassion. I feel very deeply about the broken system that is “the working poor.” I am no political writer nor an economist, but as a human being, I feel that people who work hard, should be paid accordingly. It makes me sad that millions of Americans are busting their proverbial behinds and still can’t make ends meet. Such is the topic of Nickel and Dimed.
The book has been met with a lot of controversy. Folks say Ehrenreich doesn’t paint an accurate portrayal of the working poor. Others say how could a well-to-do writer possibly even know the first thing about being poor? I say hey, at least she tried.
I would encourage you, the reader, to pick up the book and read it for yourself before forming an opinion about its content. It will definitely open your eyes, whether you love it or hate it. I know, for me, it has instilled a deep sense of compassion for folks who just can’t get a break. If I am ever presented with the opportunity to help people like Pedro or Jeremy, you can bet I will. I have been blessed with a very comfortable lifestyle and it is my duty as a soul-bearing human being to pay it forward.
To the working poor: Your efforts do not go unnoticed and I have every confidence that you will be blessed richly. Whether it is in this lifetime or another.
Until then, happy reading.