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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Nickel and Dimed Questions 1 and 2

Nickel and Dimed Questions 1 and 2

  1. What does it mean to be poor?

Merriam-Webster defines poor as “having little money or few possessions: not having enough money for the basic things that people need to live properly.” While this definition pertains to the front of a poor person’s lifestyle, it fails to uncover the internal struggle of being poor. While standard-living people view the poor as having less money than the typical American, Barbara Ehrenreich counters this common thought by experiencing the lifestyle of an impoverished American herself. Ehrenreich observes her co-workers and the financial situations as a poor woman herself in attempt to evaluate the differences between the impoverished and common Americans. The first things that she experienced as a waitress living on low wages was the exhaust of having non-stop working and the common anguish that the workers have against management (as well as upper class).

Ehrenreich applies for many low paying jobs, which educate her on the stressful process of how the poor have multiple jobs at once and are constantly switching from one job to another. Her schedule became sealed and had no room for non-working time once she started working at both “Hearthside” and “Jerry’s.” “Jerry’s” was significantly more burdensome because there were much heavier tasks, the workspaces were extremely messy, and she was given no breaks, so she was required to constantly work: “The break room summarizes the whole situation: there is none, because there are no breaks at Jerry’s” (30). Consecutively working for hours on end is a torment on the worker, since they waste no time and can never sit, they endure both physical and mental problems on a daily basis. They feel like slaves and do not get payed enough money for the treatment that they get. Ehrenreich even accounts that she begins to have pain in her body after being on her feet all day. When her schedule became too compact with both jobs, she quit “Hearthside” because she would make more money at “Jerry’s,” knowing how terrible it was to work there. This moment indicates that when a person is in unfortunate financial circumstances, money will always be the deciding factor in a decision, no matter what.

A sense of community between the workers comes out of their tough livelihood, since they can come together to despise management. Although the managers are paid much more than the workers, they the exact opposite amount of laboring than the workers do. The transition from worker to management persuades the other workers to feel that the person being promoted will remain bias on the side of the workers, while in reality, the new position changes their attitude and they side with management. Being promoted to management is basically to work very hard as a worker, so that you can one day not work at all and supervise hard workers, while getting paid more money to sit around rather than labor. Ehrenreich states, “Managers can sit-for hours at a time if they want-but it’s their job to see that no one else ever does, even when there’s nothing to do…” (22). The managers obligate the workers to do their jobs at all time, taking no time off. They show no empathy towards Ehrenreich and the rest of the workers, since the number one priority is to make money. The workers have to do what their told in order to survive, so they are forced to labor, while a manager makes more money supervising and sitting around. Ehrenreich experiences this emotional dilemma since the management does not tend to their personal needs for survival, considering that they care about the money being brought in first and the employees second.

All of Ehrenreich’s experiences contribute to how being poor drains the energy out of a person, both physically and emotionally. Ehrenreich uncovers the laborious cycle that impoverished workers go through every day. Their survival requires them to take on a multitude of occupations that seem impossible to fit in a daily schedule. And to add to their stress, they cannot find consistent living, so an incredible amount of money is being lost in hotel living. The poor is paying more money to live than the wealthy are, since they are paying a constant fee for their home, while the poor are paying a lot of money each day in a hotel. Overall, Ehrenreich expresses the loss of humanity as an impoverished worker. My independent thoughts of a poor lifestyle is to not have the amount of money that matches the average American worker. I feel that upper class society looks down on the poor because they feel like the impoverished have not worked hard enough to make money, when they have actually worked harder than the average wealthy citizen. This is because the poor have to work multiple jobs and always be looking for a way to make money, which causes them to always be in financial caution. Ehrenreich’s experiences have altered my point of view on the poor. I now acknowledge how diminishing it is to be poor. I see how management treats their employees with disrespect, the upper class looks down on them for being poor in the first place, and they are always working, but not getting enough credit for it.

2.) Invisible Effects of Poverty?

Besides the many economical problems that come with being impoverished, many emotional traits are diminished by the upper class citizens that look down on them. Even if an impoverished person is particularly smart or educated, the very label of being poor makes people look down on them. Jobs that Ehrenreich goes through like waitressing, being a maid, or serving nursing home patients are all occupations that consumers automatically see as a “lower level” than them. An economic status can simply be determined by what job a certain person has. The managers and employers of the poor employees also overlook their individualities, since they only view them for the job that they hold. The main internal effects that Ehrenreich observes from her experience are the judgements from the public that come along with being poor and the self-crippling that impoverished workers have when being treated with unfair conditions.

When working in the house-cleaning service as a maid, Ehrenreich would clean houses of very wealthy families that did not care for how hard their laboring was. The owners of the home would not provide a welcoming atmosphere for the maids, since they would often look down on them as lower class and almost always never offer something like a drink so that they would feel welcome. It showed that the back-breaking lower class fully has to support the upper class with laborious jobs, which highlights the inequality between classes. Every house Ehrenreich cleaned was owned by a member of the upper class: “‘If we’re cleaning their house, they’re wealthy’” (95). Besides the extremely wealthy of society, all citizens that have an occupation that does not require labor, will look down on those who have to physically labor for a living. Being a maid is one of the most tasking occupations that Ehrenreich experiences, and it is also the job where she is judged the most by those who surround her in her local community. Ehrenreich and the other women that she works with begin to get injured from the intense amount of cleaning that they are objected to. The most clear abundance that people begin to notice the maids for is how dirty they are from cleaning and the uniforms that make them stand out as maids. Ehrenreich feels discriminated as lower class when she sees other people judge her for being a maid: “...seem to look down on us...I couldn’t take the stares, which are easily translatable into: What are you doing here?...smell like eau de toilet and sweat, but it’s the brilliant green-and-yellow uniform that gives me away, like prison clothes on a fugitive” (100). All maids are incapable of going to a public place after a day of hard work, without being glared out by regular people. It is hard to be paranoid while everyone around you is constantly judging you for your clothes, distinct smell, and unclean body from cleaning. This persistent awareness of the maids and what they do for a living lowers their self-esteem and makes them feel like less equal than the typical worker, which is an internal struggle that all labor workers have to go through every day.

When the maids were subjected by their employers and the people they cleaned the house for, they were often viewed as “incompetent” and unable to do the job correctly. When they made a small mistake, everything else that they had done perfectly was disregarded and they were represented for their one mistake. The maids were disrespected by the wealthy people they cleaned for because they thought of the maids as insignificant and uneducated. This edge of upper class allows them to make significant judgements about the maids that work for them: “‘They think we’re stupid,’ was Holly’s answer. ‘They think we have nothing better to do with our time’...’We’re nothing to these people,’ she said. ‘We’re just maids’” (100). The wealthy employers judge each maid by their occupation, so they merge them together, neglecting each worker’s uniqueness as a human. The judgements that are bestowed on them make the maids believe in the assumptions made about them. The maids do not disregard what is thought of about them, instead they absorb the insults and judgements that are made about them, significantly lower their self-esteem. They acknowledge that they are the lowest in society, which deteriorates their rights as humans, since they are seen as unequal to the rest of society. The internal struggle of feeling less important than others in society grows as the poor begin to accept who they are with pity, since their job becomes the only component of their lives that defines them.

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