Everyone dreams of living the American dream. In fact, America is one of the most envied nations in the world. Its constitution, way of life, and the opportunities it offers to its people are favorable. No wonder it is the world super power and has resources to marshal troops in various stations throughout the world.
In addition, it protects the interest of its citizens and even citizens of other countries out of good will. Countries cannot manage such status without adequate resources. It is for this reason that everyone wants to set his or her foot in the United States.
The country is sometimes described as a land of opportunity and freedom, where anyone willing to work hard can get ahead and make a comfortable life for them and their family. In other words, if someone becomes poor in the United States, then this is usually pegged on his/her own shortcomings. This, paper will review these claims with reference to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, On (Not) Getting By in America. It will also endeavor to relate Ehrenreich’s experiences with the same claims (Ehrenreich 42).
This is a story by Barbara Ehrenreich on how she tries to relate expenses to earnings for a minimum wage worker. Ehrenreich explores how Americans that earn the lowest wages survive in a country where they form the largest sector.
To ensure that her writings are non-factious and provides the best case scenario, Ehrenreich decides to try this by herself. She does this in an effort to present the plight of most workers throughout United States. In fact, according to her, these conditions are unlivable and can be referred to as another form of servant class (although not official).
Throughout her story, Ehrenreich poses a hypothetical question regarding survival concerns that face many Americans working on minimum wages. These include expenses that permanently exceed their income, and wants that cannot be met. Ultimately, the desire to live a better life knocks every day. In this regards she takes the unusual role of an undercover, trying to make ends meet through lower class struggles. In addition, she does it in three different states.
Ehrenreich decided to do an inside report after her lunch with Lewis Lapham. In her assignment, Ehrenreich hopes to survive on a minimum wage job for one month, which includes paying for her rent and transport.
In essence, she tries to find out if minimum wages can match expenses at the end of the month. This proves unsuccessful in all her three attempts. At first, the people around her try to discourage the option of actually moving to the level of low class lifestyle. However, out of her misgivings, she decides to go through the actual hardship.
He first month starts in Florida, which is very close to her home. Here, she finds rooms to be expensive in Key West and opts to move 30 miles away. She then finds a job as a waitress, but the wages are inadequate, so she decides to add another job to this by becoming a maid. Handling the two jobs becomes tiresome and demanding physically. She therefore fails in her first assignment.
In her second assignment, Ehrenreich goes to Maine, where she finds it difficult to survive again. Some of the reasons being, she could not survive on one job. This meant that she had to do one or more jobs for sustainability. The jobs she found in Maine were house cleaning and nursing-home aide.
In addition, these jobs were physically demanding, and for that reason, she had to quite Maine too. The last assignment took her to Minnesota, where she was quite lucky to find a job as a Wall-Mart salesperson. It is through these experiences that she found out that jobs considered as lowliest also exhaust peoples’ physical and mental efforts. Moreover, she found out that one needed not only one, but also two or more jobs to survive under a roof (Ehrenreich 2).
These claims are completely rubbished by Ehrenreich’s experiences. In fact, the mere fact that a single job cannot sustain one makes it even more difficult for people to believe that this is manageable. In essence, speaking exclusively for the low income group, hard work, in accordance with Ehrenreich’s experiences, would not guarantee a rise from poverty.
In fact, several indications point out to the fact that these groups would remain in the same situation for the rest of their lives. To this extent, it is possible to concur with Ehrenreich that these conditions are unlivable and can be referred to as another form of servant class.
There are several reasons that can peg one in his financial state for the rest of his or her life. These include laziness, personal content, inadequate opportunities, capping, which may be introduced through minimum wages, among others.
In this book, more emphasis is put on work related obstacles such as the minimum wage that is inadequate for survival, working conditions as well as inadequate opportunities for further growth, among others. In essence, just as Ehrenreich calls it, these conditions are unlivable and can be referred to as another form of servant class (although not official). This makes it look like a form of capping that ensures they remain poor forever.
Under these conditions of work, with poor transportation facilities and healthcare resources, people are unable to live healthy lives. In fact, all they earn are consumed without much left to plan with for their future.
Consequently, they have to struggle to survive. No wonder, the government has various mechanisms for providing subsidies to families and individuals to help sustain them. Essentially, with such conditions of works, people are poised to remain poor throughout their lives (Ehrenreich 12).
It is known that America is a land of opportunity and freedom, where anyone willing to work hard can get ahead and make a comfortable life for them and their family. In other words, if someone becomes poor in the United States, then this is usually pegged on his/her own shortcomings.
This may be true to different classes of economy, but definitely untrue when it comes to the minimum wage workers. Earnings of between $6 and $7 per hour are quite inadequate as compared to their monthly needs and expenses. In essence, they have to survive by doing more than one job. These claims are therefore untrue when implied for low class economies (Ehrenreich 22).
Ehrenreich, Barbara. “Nickel and Dimed, On (Not) Getting By in America”. Holt Paperbacks, 2008.
American history during the colonial times has mainly focused on the thirteen states that were under British colonization that later came to form the United States of America. These thirteen states included Pennsylvania, Delaware, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New York, Virginia, Rhode Island, North and South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.
These colonies claimed their independence from British colonization during the American Revolution which was viewed to be an Anglo-centric approach that shaped the history of the United States. The story that follows the American Revolution has created several distortions over what happened during the past two centuries (Taylor xv).
One of these distortions was that colonial historians could not differentiate the legitimate areas that fell under British colonization. These areas until recently have been identified to be the eastern seaboard of North America between Maine and Florida. Colonial history was therefore based on geographical areas that were seen to be relevant in explaining the history of America.
The second distortion was that many of the thirteen states that fell under British colonization were neglected when it came to compiling historical information. This neglect not only applied to the indigenous inhabitants of America but also to immigrants such as Africans and Europeans that were within the U.S. during that time. Other areas that were neglected included the eastern part of North America, Canada, the West Indies and Latin America (Taylor xv).
The British colonization of America began during the 16th and 17th century. These British colonialists were from different parts of England and they had different sets of beliefs when it came to religion, and culture. They also had different reasons for migrating to America with colonialists who settled in New England running away from the religious persecution that was taking place in England during that time.
The emigrants who settled in the South had moved from England in search of better land to conduct their farming activities and also take advantage of the unutilized land in the states that formed Chesapeake to create wealth for themselves (Rushforth and Mapp ix)
In 1700, the migration differences together with the different religious and cultural divisions led to the formation of Chesapeake and New England. Chesapeake or the Southern part of America was made of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania while Northern part of America also known as New England was made up of Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts (Taylor 139).
The New England colonialists also referred to as the Puritan separatists were focused on the community, religion, shared values and beliefs while the Chesapeake British colonialists were focused on creating wealth by growing tobacco, mining for gold and trading with the Native Americans for food or money (Taylor 160).
Madison’s distinction of the two areas as highlighted by Taylor was evidenced when he noted that the British colonialists had instituted a policy in 1617 referred to as the head right system that would enable other European immigrants to settle in Chesapeake by offering them highly valued land so that they could increase the wealth of the regions. The head right system was successful as it saw more British citizens migrating to America to practice agricultural activities and mining activities.
In 1620, 102 pilgrims who were escaping the religious mutiny going on in England landed in Massachusetts without a royal charter which means they were not representing King James I. They found Massachusetts to be undisputed because 90 percent of the native Indians had been wiped out by smallpox. As soon as they arrived, they created their own charter known as the Mayflower which allowed their colonization of Massachusetts to grow.
The Mayflower colony was later used as a model for future Puritan settlements in America by focusing on religion, shared values, culture, beliefs and work ethics. The cultural differences and contracting views that existed between these two groups served to separate not only the British colonists but also the Native Americans during that time (Rushforth and Mapp ix).
The Puritan Separatists who were running away from religious persecution in England created an intolerant environment in New England because they saw themselves to be more godly that the other British colonialists. Their religion which was mostly focused on the family was characterized by a lot of piety with one clergyman for every 600 Puritans (Taylor 188).
The religion in the Chesapeake area was less severe with the Anglican Church being the main predominant force in the area. In terms of economy, the Chesapeake economy was mostly focused on the growth and sale of tobacco as well as slave trade and mining. The slave trade relied heavily on the tobacco plantations which needed many workers to plant and harvest the commodity (Taylor 140).
The tobacco industry raised enough money to import and export more slave workers who would be used in the plantation fields thereby increasing the production of tobacco. These activities saw an increase in the economy of Chesapeake which was not the same case for New England.
The economy mostly focused on shipbuilding, fishing and farming which was done on a small scale. Since the New England religion mostly focused on family and not economic gain, the amount of farming done was enough to feed one’s family. There were many family owned farms that created a secure household competency (Taylor 140). The New Englanders religious beliefs prevented them from hiring outside help or using slaves for economic purposes.
Whatever surplus the family’s garnered from their farming activities saw the wealth being distributed equally amongst the farmers and tradesmen living in the region. Because New England had a decentralized system of governance, the Chesapeake colonialists as well as the American Natives despised the New Englanders by referring to their system of governance as republicanism (Taylor 161).
According to Ulrich, the role of women in New England was divided into that of a mother, neighbor, mistress, heroine, Christian, housewife and deputy husband. These roles were described according to what effect they had on the New England society and the church.
The New England male community treated its female population in both a positive and negative way during the period of 1650 to 1750 although the negative treatment of women was more common (Ulrich 6). The Puritan laws outlined by the New England religious doctrines required women to submit to their husbands without question. When two people were married under New England law, they became one person under the law.
The legal existence of the woman was therefore terminated during the course of the marriage because her legal existence had become incorporated into that of the husband. Women who were married under New England law could not do anything without the permission of the husband (Ulrich 7). Women Chesapeake were viewed differently and treated with respect when compared to those in New England.
Rushforth, Brett and Paul Mapp. Colonial North America and the Atlantic World. London: Pearson Prentice Hall. 2009.
Taylor, Alan. American Colonies: the settling of North America. New York: Penguin
Publishers. 2001. Ulrich, Laurel. Good wives. New York: Vintage Books. 1991.