Essay title: Nickel and Dimed Book Report
Barbara Ehrenreich is a journalist who wrote the book Nickel and Dimed. She goes undercover to see how it feels to work for $6 to $7 an hour. She leaves her regular life to explore the experiences of a minimum wage worker. Ehrenreich travels to Florida, Maine, and Minnesota, looking for jobs and places to live on a minimum wage salary. At one point in time, she had to work two jobs to makes ends meet. As she worked all these jobs, she discovered many problems in the social world.
The things she went through were not the types of situations that she usually experienced. She wasn’t used to living and working environments of the poor. She had to deal with the different personalities and customs of her co-workers, their living arrangement, and the management hierarchy in each job. She worked as a waitress at two different restaurants, as a maid service cleaning houses, and as a dietary aide at a nursing home.
Ehrenreich didn’t want to be a waitress any more than some waitresses, but she did it for her research. Ehrenreich once stated that, “Waitressing is also something I’d like to avoid, because I remember it leaving me bone-tired when I was eighteen.” (13). Her first job was at Hearthside, a restaurant in Key West, Florida. She was hired as a waitress, starting at $2.43 plus tips. She worked the afternoon shift.
Hearthside was being managed by a West Indian man by name of Phillip. The management wasn’t the best. They treated their employees disrespectfully. At an employee meeting, they were threatened by the management.
Ehrenreich stated, “I have not been treated this way-lined up in the corridor, threatened with locker searches, peppered with carelessly aimed accusation-since junior high school” (24). When they were just standing around, the manager would give them extra work to do. According to Ehrenreich, “You start dragging out each little chore because if the manager on duty catches you in an idle moment, he will give you something far nastier to do. So I wipe, I clean, consolidate catsups bottles and recheck the cheesecake supply, even tour the tables to make sure the customer evaluation is standing perkily.” (22).
They were hired at Hearthside to serve the customers. There are twenty-six tables in the whole restaurant. All the food must be placed on the food trays; small items were to be carried in a bowl, and no refills on the lemonade (17). Everyone got along with each other.
They would cover each other’s back if someone wanted to take a smoke or “pee” break. When they would have an employee meeting, each person was for himself. Ehrenreich explained how “Joan complains about the condition of the ladies’ room and I throw in my two bits about the vacuum cleaner. But I didn’t see any backup coming from my fellow servers, each of whom has slipped into her own personal funk; Gail, my role model, stares sorrowfully at a point six inches from her nose.” (24). Ehrenreich learned the entire staff of Hearthside had difficulty with their living arrangements. After a week, Ehrenreich compiled the following survey: Gail is sharing a room in a well-known downtown flophouse for $250 a week.
Her roommate, a male friend, has begun hitting her, driving her nuts, but the rent would be impossible alone. Claude, the Haitian cook, is desperate to get out the two-bedroom apartment he shares with his girlfriend and two other unrelated people. “ As far as I can determine, the other Haitian men live similarly crowded situations. Annette, a twenty-year old server who is six months pregnant and abandoned by her boyfriend, lives with her mother, a postal clerk.
Marianne, who is a breakfast server, and her boyfriend are paying $170 a week for a one-person trailer. Billy, who at $10 an hour is the wealthiest of us, lives in the trailer he owns, paying only the $400-a month lot fee” (26). No one made enough money to stay in a decent place to live. While still working at Hearthside, she searched for another job so that she would have enough money to maintain a minimal standard of living. Ehrenreich’s second job was working at another restaurant named Jerry’s. She stated, “The management at Jerry’s is generally calmer and more professional.
” (36). One particular time the manager, B.J., approached her in the face. Ehrenreich explained ”Instead of saying you are fired, she says you are doing fine.
The only trouble is I’m spending time chatting with customers.” (36). Jerry’s had more customers the Hearthside, so there was more work to do. She was there to serve the Customers and move orders from the kitchen to the tables. The co-workers were very supportive of each other. According to Ehrenreich, “All in all we form a reliable mutual-support group”. She discovers “Of her fellow servers everyone lacks a husband or boyfriend to work a second job” (39).
At Jerry’s everyone had.