Hannah Kurman (wordstoponder) wrote,
Hannah Kurman

Reaction to Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed

I first heard about Nickel and Dimed while going through AmeriCorps training a year and a half ago, though finally got the chance to read the book when a coworker let me borrow it a couple of days ago. In short, the author wanted to temporarily live the life of a low-wage worker as an experiment to see if she was able to get by. She had no trouble finding work, though it was very difficult to find affordable housing. Getting a job (or two) does not mean that you are able to get by.

I currently earn less a month than I did as an AmeriCorps*VISTA, with a stipend that is supposed to be at the poverty line. On average, I am on my feet for six or seven hours a day and bring home a pay check around $200-215 a week. I now have Commonwealth Care (the version of MassHealth for people who work), got reduced rent (which is subsidized, thanks to my boyfriend's Section 8), increased food stamps. I would not be able to afford to live by myself (like a co-worker/friend of mine who is in a very difficult money situation). I have a working vehicle, though much of the money that goes into it is from my generous parents - the $20 or so a week for gas, the $400 job of inspection sticker, winterization and strut repair, the $300+ for a whole new muffler system, etc.

My situation is lucky compared to many others who are struggling. I have a support network of family and friends and I know where to go if I ever need any help or if I want my voice heard.

When I was thoroughly looking for a job, I was surprised that no one wanted an entry-level office assistant/receptionist/clerk without the high-heels. I was also insulted by the "personality tests" (such as Wal-Mart's computerized job application) and "drug tests" that many retail places require, the lack of opportunity to sell myself in face-to-face interactions.

Four months into working at the package store, I still enjoy work. There are days when I am exhausted, not feeling well, or just overwhelmed (especially Mondays)... The work can be repetitive and the customers can be difficult to deal with, but I am learning how to handle the work and the people. I am grateful for a boss who, though he is hard to track down, I am able to talk to, is willing to negotiate when I want a day or two off (or a whole week, since I'm traveling for Thanksgiving), who brings me a hot tea now and then, etc. I am praised about how good I do. And if things are slow, I am able to read a book.
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