Sunday, January 31, 2016

Invisible Effects of Poverty

In Barbara Ehrenreich's novel, Nickel and Dimed, she highlights various effects of being poor. Due to lack of income, the working poor are forced to face countless hardships including exhaustion and dehumanizing decisions.

While settling down in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Ehrenreich attains jobs at Menards and Walmart. After enduring a 8 hour Walmart Orientation, Ehrenreich refuses to attend her first day on the job at Menards even though it is the better paying job, "The embarrassing truth is that I am just too exhausted to work, especially for eleven hours in a row" (149). Most members of the working class do not have the privilege of the safety net Ehrenreich has and could not make that decision. They would have to peel themselves off the bed and go work a repulsive eleven hour shift to provide for themselves or their families. Due to the constant stress of money shortages, working class push their bodies past the healthy limits trying to make ends meet.

The dehumanization of laborers was one of the harshest effects of industrialization. However, workers are not only dehumanized in the workplace. Again, due to lack of money, Ehrenreich has to sacrifice basic civilized instincts in her home. One such example was finding of surface to eat off of, "Eating is tricky without a table. I put the food on the chest of drawers and place a plastic supermarket bag over my lap" (159-160). Drawers for a table, a plastic bag for a tablecloth. Ehrenreich is doing the best she can to provide for herself. However, coming from a well off lifestyle, this must feel unnatural and unnerving. When a basic function such as eating becomes a project, other emotional human parts of you are shut down to satisfy your basic human needs.

Ehrenreich concludes her novel stating, "To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else" (221).  If you are a 'member' of a class of people constantly trying to please others, when do you become a priority? To constantly work in the service of others is frustrating and is perpetuates the notion that one class is set above the other and somehow more worthy of such a lifestyle. To be 'anonymous' and 'nameless' is to be stripped of ones identity. Our capitalistic society has been built on the abuse and dehumanization of vulnerable and desperate workers.

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