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Nickel and Dimed

After reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, the most pertinent response that arises is one of outrage. Through her skills as a journalist, Ehrenreich places herself in the position of society’s humblest workers: those that have been forced into work from welfare. The reality that she reveals is both heart wrenching and infuriating. Unfortunately after realizing that American’s have perpetuated a system in which survival cannot be attained on working eight hours a day, the primary emotion that remains is outrage.

Nickel and Dimed

Ehrenreich’s work centers on those that have been displaced as a result of welfare reform. Her analysis demonstrates that for most individuals caught in this precarious position, the realities of basic economics—i.e. that prices increase regularly but wages do not—creates a situation in which unskilled laborers making between $6 and $7 an hour are often unable to make ends meet, even when working two jobs. By placing herself in the situation and reporting on her real life experiences attempting to make ends meet in this type of situation, Ehrenreich is able to show that if an individual does not have support from an outside partner—i.e. family or friends—the changes of “making it” are quit grim. When one considers the implications of this fact, disgust, anger and sadness are produced. For instance, recent statistics released by the federal government show that children are the largest group of impoverished in the United States. With the realization that most individuals cannot support themselves with two jobs at above minimum wage, this reality has significant consequences for women and men who have children.

Overall, Ehrenreich’s analysis is almost painful to read because it is a larger reflection of the society that we have chosen to create. While one could argue that the government is responsible for welfare reform, when one looks more closely at the issue, it can be effectively argued that the welfare program that Clinton instituted while in office was in response to a larger social movement that decried the abuse of welfare by stereotyped “welfare queens.” While it is indeed true that some degree of reform was indeed needed in the system, what Ehrenreich is able to show through her analysis is that the pathway chosen will, in the end, create more problems than it will solve. Thus, even though the government has moved millions of welfare recipients to work, the problem of poverty has simply shifted from a public sector problem to a private sector problem.

This is the system that America has created and whether society realizes it or not the costs of welfare reform will be borne by each American citizen regardless of income. This is perhaps the most upsetting realization brought forth by Ehrenreich’s analysis. The question now is, “Where do we go?”

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