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Individual paper - The Working Class and Advocates for the Poor A Critique of Nickel and Dimed Many sociologists have studied the working class

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The Working Class and Advocates for the Poor: A Critique of Nickel and Dimed Many sociologists have studied the working class, whose members find it ever more difficult to afford their standard of living due to rising prices and stagnant wages. In recent years there has been a noticeable increase in the number of advocates for the working poor, fighting for the public goods and governmental regulations that will help the poor survive. One unlikely advocate was journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, who, during a time of unprecedented prosperity in the United States, spent several months trying to make ends meet in low-paying jobs. Her book Nickel and Dimed is a firsthand look into the lives of low-wage workers in America. The author worked first as a waitress and hotel maid in Florida; next as a housecleaning maid in Maine; and finally as a salesperson in Minnesota. She allowed herself several perks unavailable to most working-class individuals, including reliable transportation, startup cash for securing housing, and a way out if conditions became too difficult. The book details Ehrenreich’s experiences in each of the three locations and features an evaluation section following the narrative, in which the author compares her perspective to national trends. This paper will examine the characteristics of the working poor and will critique Nickel and Dimed as a part of the advocacy movement. In 1987, more than 8 million Americans who worked part- or full-time remained below the government-defined poverty line—which is calculated by tripling the cost of food for a family of four (Shapiro, 1989). Despite overall low poverty rates during the 1960s due to the implementation of President Kennedy’s War on Poverty programs, since 1980 there has been a steady increase in the number of people living at or below the poverty line. In particular, the
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percentage of children below the poverty level was at an all-time high in 1995, and has dropped only nominally since then (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2008). It is unfortunate that anyone should live in the difficult conditions of poverty, but even more tragic that minorities are disproportionately represented in the poverty rate. A 2000 study confirmed that poverty is “not randomly distributed; race, gender, family structure, and parental education all have a significant effect on the likelihood of experiencing poverty” (Seccombe, 2000). One of the most crucial factors impacting the working poor is the minimal increases in wages over the past decade, when the economy has been robust. From 1996 to 1999, the poorest 10 percent of Americans saw their wages increase by $0.56 per hour—an overall increase of about $1,000 per year (Schmidt, 2000). With food prices and rent expenses going up at much higher rates, it is becoming more and more difficult for families to provide even basic necessities, whether parents are working part-time, full-time, or at multiple jobs. A common myth about the poor is that they are unemployed or underemployed because they
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This essay was uploaded on 04/18/2008 for the course SOC 370 taught by Professor Ward during the Winter '08 term at BYU.

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Individual paper - The Working Class and Advocates for the Poor A Critique of Nickel and Dimed Many sociologists have studied the working class

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