Life is not easy when living under the poverty line and more like a 150% effort is required each and every day. Working full time at job that pays minimum wage may provide enough money for a single individual, but it will certainly not for an entire family. Barbara Ehrenreich delves into the world of the minimum-wage workers in her book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. She seeks entry-level jobs and tries to support herself with the minimum wages from these jobs, for months at a time. Ehrenreich makes an agreeable and clear argument in Nickel and Dimed is that living under the poverty line working a minimum wage is nearly impossible through her development of ethos and personal experiences.
Ehrenreich delves into the world of the minimum-wage worker by finding a job in Southern Florida as a waitress. She immediately appeals to the emotions of hers readers by placing them into her life when she writes about how small the bathroom is so much so that sitting on the toilet causes her knees to rub against the shower stall (Ehrenreich 39). She conveys the different working minimum wage has made in her life. Immediately she notices that she no longer feels comfortable at home as she once had. Ehrenreich right away realizes that even something as minor as the space between the shower and toilet has value since she can no longer afford it. Readers are further placed into Ehrenreich’s life when she portrays the Overseas park as “ a nest of crime and crack,” and yet she keeps her hope high to find a bit of “ vibrant multicultural street life” (Ehrenreich 39).
One thing is for certain that Ehrenreich is no longer in Kansas. She is not living in a friendly neighborhood anymore; and at least for Ehrenreich, it is like she is starting all over again. There are many in the United States living homes like the one Ehrenreich describes, however, she finds this extremely surprising. Her comfort zone has shrunk as a result of jumping into a new environment. This makes her understand that in order to make ends meet she must follow this different lifestyle. Ehrenreich uses a personal narrative in order to show readers how drastically different their lives are from that of minimum-wage workers. She effectively conveys the message that most people take that narrow space between the shower stall and toilet for granted, but minimum-wage workers have to work much harder even to secure that extra space.
Ehrenreich again uses her personal experiences to highlight how tough the life of minimum-wage worker tends to be. She works all kinds of unskilled jobs, including as a waitress and sales clerk, even working as a maid in Maine. As the stress of work continues put gradual pressure on her, Ehrenreich starts to notice the toll that minimum wages take on workers. One of her colleagues wishes she could occasionally take a day off without losing more of her wages that could prevent her from buying groceries the next day (Ehrenreich 119). This makes it quite convenient for readers to imagine that unskilled laborers have to work twice as hard just to be able to buy groceries for themselves and their families.
Ehrenreich makes it quite apparent that for minimum-wage workers, even taking a day off might mean that they might not be able to put any food on the table tomorrow. Her readers might wonder how minimum-wage workers must do that much work for something like groceries that many Americans might consider insignificant. Of course, for Ehrenreich’s colleague, groceries are the most important part of her day since she cannot prepare food for her family without them, and she works constantly every single day just to earn enough money to be able to buy the groceries she needs. She does not know the luxury of a day off like many of Ehrenreich’s readers might know, and she considers it something out of reach. Ehrenreich establishes that some people must work hard day in and day out just to be able to get by.
Ehrenreich seems to have gathered plenty of anecdotes, which she uses not only to establish her credibility, but also to portray the tough life of unskilled minimum-wage workers. Instead of just writing about the harsh life of these workers, she actually lived it, just to go the extra mile. She knows first-hand that the world is cruel and life can be hard. The fact experienced this lifestyle significantly boosts her credibility and ethos. Moreover, this automatically assures the audience that they can trust her and her writing. She uses her personal experiences to build her ethos, making her portrayal of the hardships of minimum-wage workers more effective. Like Ehrenreich, her readers end up understanding and agreeing to the fact that living under the poverty line is indeed demanding, and readers are able to share in the hardships of the minimum-wage workers.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. London: Picador, 2011. Print.