Monday, November 5, 2012

Nonfiction | The Plight of the Worker

Believe it or not, Barbara Ehrenreich's national bestseller Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America is something I hadn't before read...and had to read as part of my YA Lit class. Did you know it was one of the most challenged books in libraries during 2010-2011? Our reading list during Banned Books Week included selections from challenge lists, and I opted for this one just because I'd never read it.

I honestly didn't have much idea what it was about prior to reading, despite all its buzz a few years ago. Ehrenreich performs a bit of an undercover social experiment for this book. She moves from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, starting from scratch in each location. With almost nothing to get her started (except an always-functioning car), she finds a minimum wage-paying, unskilled job and suitable housing, stretching each dollar to live paycheck to paycheck—a lifestyle that is the norm for millions of Americans.

Ehrenreich's writing is easy to read, and her tone and pace add some light to a subject that can quickly and easily get bogged down by the dark. Her anecdotes often add humor to a situation that, most of the time, feels completely exhausting and hopeless. She also does a good job of putting her experiences in context—whether it's giving a big picture of housing shortages in an area or an in depth analysis of Walmart's hiring policies. The author gives just enough context to help with understanding, without feeling like an economics lesson or political lecture.

It was surprising to me that this book was featured on the list of Most Challenged Books of last year. Both of the challenges were in school districts with complaints the book promoted "economic fallacies" and socialist ideas, advocated the use of illegal drugs and profanity, and belittled Christians. So, some people clearly don't agree with Ehrenreich's viewpoints. And there are some parts I could take issue with (mostly a general tone from the author that I am different from these people). But I don't think her opinion or outlook on the matter is what makes this book important. Its very subject matter makes it important. It makes you think. You're given with a situation—a very real situation of how people live and how our country supports its citizens—and then it's left to you to form your own opinion about said situation. You can take the fact that's presented and reflect and respond, agree or disagree, and there it is—you've encountered something you may not otherwise have encountered.

To me, the most thought-provoking point was the contrast between "unskilled" labor and the workforce with a college degree. The unskilled labor she covers in this book is hard and exhausting and unappreciated. You're working to survive, and there's nothing pretty about it. Meanwhile, my "skilled" desk job is only exhausting to my eyeballs as I stare at a computer all day. It has a higher place in society, but what series of events or developments awarded a job like mine such a status?

If anything, I think the point of this book is to present you with a point you may not have considered, where you can say, "Huh, hadn't thought of that before." And then, no matter how small, you've got a new perspective to consider.

1 comment:

heidenkind said...

Kind of crazy a book like this would be challenged! But then nearly all of the reasons behind banning books don't make sense.