Not Getting By

Barbara Ehrenreich is  a journalist who conducted her own experiment of trying to live on minimum wage. Throughout the course of the article she had three jobs total: two serving jobs and one as a maid. She worked these jobs for one month and found that living on minimum wage was quite hard.

To live on federal minimum wage would be very difficult. Ehrenreich allowed herself startup money, but generally, people who are living like this for real do not have that luxury. They have nothing and have to work for a while before they can think about renting a place. Often they have to lie with relatives or friends for a while.

For a family with two children, surviving in America earning the federal minimum wage would be extremely difficult. Barbara Ehrenreich’s experiment took place in 1998, over tn years ago. Things have changed since then. The economy is not doing as well as it was then. People feel the need to stay up to date with the current trends and technology and feel trapped by money.

I do think minimum wage should be raised. As we saw from this experiment one person living on this income just barely made it, yet she had help and did not actually have to live like this for real. For a family living like this, especially now, it would be very difficult.

According to Ehrenreich, managers feel that they must closely monitor minimum wage employees because the employees are the middlemen between the customer and the money. This style of management is not fair because the employees are not treated as humans, but as things that are easily replaced.

Not Getting By in America

Barbara Ehrenreich describes in her article “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America”, her experiences trying to survive while working minimum wage jobs in Key West, Florida. An eye-opening experiment for her and anyone reading her story, it proved just how hard it is for many people to survive in America. I have been fortunate to have found jobs that always paid more than the federal minimum wage. At $7.25 per hour, I would never be able to afford half the things that I take for granted now. Though I have a hard enough time making ends meet as it is, bringing in a paycheck like that every week simply wouldn’t cover the expenses. Consider that $7.25 an hour equates to $290 gross weekly income. I am taxed roughly 20% which brings my net weekly paycheck to about $232. My rent which is very low compared to the average tenant is nearly half that amount. I am fortunate to not have a car payment but I still spend about $35 a week on gas. Not to mention my $100-a-month car and cell phone payments. Further budgeting a measly $50 a week for food, my entire paycheck is effectively exhausted.

A family of four, if attempting to survive on two minimum wage jobs would be far less fortunate than I. They would want to have a 2 bedroom apartment at least, which runs no less than $600 and that’s if you catch a break. A 3 bedroom living arraignment would be upward of $700 for anything with no leaks in the roof or bullet holes in the walls. Throw in daycare, diapers, and an endless number of surprise expenses and one is no longer surprised at the amount of welfare dependents.

I have mixed feelings about minimum wages. One argument states that setting a minimum wage raises the entire economic plane. Or in other words, it drives up the cost of living for everyone, effectively neutralizing the purpose of having a wage minimum to began with. The thinking with this theory is that employers would find it necessary to keep wages at a certain level to compete with other businesses.  On the other hand, if there was no minimum then employers could pay as a low a wage as they wanted. They could underpay more if they were a major employer in the area, potentially leaving a region in a lower standard of living.

I have much experience dealing with bosses concerned with the corporate image of their business. These people suspect that each and every one of their employees are professional criminals and thieves. The slightest misplacement of minuscule items is grounds for thorough investigations and questioning. They expect their underlings to continually work nonstop and whenever they are called. Personal crisis is regarded with annoyance and often consequences if work is missed. In short, they rule with iron fists, generally for reasons they don’t understand, forgetting they often come from the same lowly beginnings as the very people they love to berate and belittle.

BY/; Jess

Not getting by

I would find it almost impossible to live off of the federal minimum wage. Massachusetts has one of the highest minimum wage an hour and it would still be difficult. Ehrenriech noted that in 1998, one had to earn an hourly wage of $8.89 to afford an one bedroom apartment and the normal survival items. The costs of living in America, have definitely gone up since 1998. When children get added into the equation, it makes it even harder to survive in America with the federal minimum wage. Parents usually find themselves working two or three jobs just to make ends meet. It is very hard to provide for children, especially when you can only make the minimum. Welfare is always an option but providing for two kids takes a lot of money and no matter what help a mother receives, the basic needs are hard to meet. As much as I would like to say that the federal minimum wage should be raised, the reality is that businesses could not afford it. Especially local, small businesses could not survive because they are already having trouble as well.

nicklel-and dimed on not getting by in america

one would find it almost impossible to live off of minimum wage. Massachusetts has one of the highest at $8.00 an hour, yet that sill doesn’t seem like enough. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, in 1998 it took an hourly wage of $8.89 to afford a one bedroom apartment, Barbara Ehnrenrich said in her essay on not getting by in america. Costs of living have gone up since 1998, and When you add children to the equation, it becomes necessary to work more than one job to make ends meet unless you want to live in the temporary homeless shelters that are sometimes dirty, and full. It then becomes necessary to provide for child care which isn’t cheap. Welfare would be an option but providing for two kids takes money and no matter what aid a mother gets, if she is earning minimum wage, food and basic needs will go unmet.
As much as it would be great for minimum wage to go up, small business owners are strapped already and raising wages would put some businesses under which would be counterproductive. This is why it is important to go to school and get a good education so you can get a good job and provide for yourself and your family.

Nickel and Dimed

Minimum wage is something that is becoming more and more prevalent with the society that we are living with. With jobs scarce and highly desired people will take a job for minimum wage even though their skill sets are greater than the wage. Living a life on your own with this type of pay would involve eating food low in nutrition and having to often go with out. Cable may be sacrificed for rent or gas money. Making ends meet becomes almost impossible. Humans can survive because millions are doing it already. Sometimes minimum wage is forced to support an entire family, the family adjusts and understands the circumstance the majority of the time and all work together to make their live’s go forward. It is a bad situation raising children with a low income but regardless it is still a situation. I don’t believe that minimum wage should be raised because when minimum wage is raised so is everything else in the economy and they would be in the same situation but it would just hurt the economy even more.


Nickel and Dimed

Based on Ehrenreich’s experience, although I could survive, I would find it incredibly difficult to live on minimum wage, living and surviving are entirely two different things.  All of us were born kicking and fighting to live but we have become used to the soft life. American’s especially have become creatures of comfort and we dislike inconveniences and discomforts. Ehrenreich’s experience detailed how she was always “living on the edge”. Some say that she was able to expose the “third world of America”. This is earth shattering for middle and upper class workers to comprehend, because it is believed that any job that pays six or seven dollars would be unskilled, due to the fact that anyone can hold the job. However, Ehrenreich’s experience proves that it is the complete opposite and that an incredible amount of skill is needed for these low paying jobs. I feel that no hard working American should have to live under these conditions.


            A Family with two children could survive on minimum wage with the help of government programs such as food stamps and section 8 housing. But, at what cost? Families living on minimum wage report high stress levels and little to no quality healthcare. Parents in these situations often have no time to spend with their children due to hectic work schedules to keep afloat.

  I think that the country should adopt a living wage policy. A living wage is a term used to describe the minimum hourly wage necessary for a person to achieve a specific standard of living while working a reasonable number of hours.

            San Francisco, which has a living wage ordinance at around $11 per hour, has done well. A study published in Industrial Relations examined the impacts of increased wages at San Francisco Airport. Their findings were positive, showing that when employee earnings increased, work ethic improved, worker morale was boosted, and at the very same time, there was no overall employment loss. Large corporations seem to be the only ones not in favor of such a movement for fear of cutting into their profits.


Living on Minimum Wage

I was surprised by how quickly, and unconsciously, the author’s mind set switched to being like that of her temporary peers.  She entered the experience with an automatic out.  She was an educated white-collar professional who chose to experiment with the minimum wage, knowing that she would return to her upper-middle class life, after 30 days.  Despite these realities, the author quickly became not just lower class in situation but also in outlook.  She came to view her friends as exotic and decadent in their use of money.  She developed a servile attitude towards her managers rather than standing up for her beliefs.  She took on the parts of the minimum-wage culture related to hopelessness and being stuck in an impossible situation.  I was surprised by how quickly circumstance could overcome a lifetime of socialization and experience.
My only experience with a minimum wage job was as a cashier.  Fortunately, my management did not take advantage of us, despite the store being located in a poor neighborhood.  The employees had few other options and the customers had low expectations, but we were still treated far better than the author was at any of her jobs.

The circumstances that led me to this job were similar to the author’s.  My job was vaguely self-imposed.  It was an experiment in what my life would be like with only a high school education. I had thought that I did not want to face the challenges of continuing in school.  This job persuaded me that I should continue.  Fortunately, my family supported me through this and could continue to do so temporarily.  I did not have the face the possibility that I would have immediately be entirely self-supporting.  Similarly to the author, I entered this situation from a different status and as an experimenter rather than as a necessity.

Despite much thought, I cannot figure out a way to define the living wage.  I have never had to cobble together a livable income the way the author had to.  I feel as though having never faced these challenges, it is not my place to decide how to set a living wage.  I find myself only able to come up with difficulty in defining it.

To start with, how do we decide what the absolute minimum is?  I know that the local cost of living, the cost of nutritious food, family size and the ideal maximum number of hours worked have to play a role.  But how do these all interact?  Can changing the minimum wage and redefining a living wage account for all those problems?

Also, what demographic assumptions must we make?  Does a living wage assume a family of four with two adults and two children, just as the poverty line does?  But that premise does not account for current realities about lower class families.  With the feminization of poverty, more families living below the poverty line consist of single-parents with multiple children.  Does the living wage need to account for one income rather than two?


Not Getting By in America

The federal minimum wage is still only $7.25 an hour, which comes to $290 a week, before any taxes are subtracted (not to mention health insurance costs, etc.); even at the Massachusetts minimum wage of $8 per hour, the totally per week is only $300, per month approx. $1200. The last time I checked, the least expensive one bedroom apartment I saw advertised was $600 per month. If taxes only took 25% of my $1200 monthly income, I’d be left with $900, and if rent was $600… three hundred dollars left for food, car related expenses (if I could even afford to keep the car!) clothing… the activities my children currently get to take part in –horseback riding; cross country skiing – would clearly have to go, as there would be absolutely no way we could afford them, on my salary, alone. Even if I didn’t have any children to take care of, it would still be pretty difficult to feed and cloth myself, and keep my car running, on only $300 a month, impossible, I’d say. And I certainly wouldn’t have enough money to take a sociology class at community college! Tho’ I suppose I would then qualify for financial aid.

But even if I got financial aid, where would I find the time (and energy!) to go to school? Perhaps the most surprising thing about Ehrenreich’s experience was how completely exhausted she was, how her life was really all about going to and from work, even before she tried taking on the second job. For a woman with children… taking on the second job would make it impossible to be around for the children, esp. in those well known after school/before dinner and bedtime “witching” hours, when we heard adolescent crime peaks, and which are the hours when my friend, the single mom, is pretty sure her then 15 year old got pregnant… while she was busy working two jobs, so she could afford to move her single-parent family to a better apartment…

The issues begin to compound. And, as Ehrenreich points out, if one gets sick, or injured and can’t work for a while, thereby losing what little minimum wage income one does earn… homelessness and utter financial ruin are not far away, unless one somehow finds a very different way to live (alluded to with George living in the “flophouse”, where he had to wait for his turn to sleep, until someone else went to work thereby freeing up a bed… ) and/or one is able to borrow from, stay with friends. People do apparently survive, on minimum wage jobs, but it obviously isn’t easy, nor is it pretty, as Ehrenreich discovered.

I think the only way a family with two children could survive on a minimum wage job would be thru extreme creativity, extreme good health, not eating much, and, good fortune and good friends and neighbors. I think surviving on a minimum wage salary would require a very different kind of cooperative community-based creativity, than the kind of “individualistic” living I currently do, with my family.

I do think the minimum wage should be raised; this may not be very easy, in the current political climate. In addition, the minimum wage would have to be raised so much, to help a single-parent live above the Federal poverty line, that I am not sure this is realistic – thinking the wage could be raised that much. An article in the 3-31-11 issue of The New York Times addressed just this issue, “Many Low Wage Jobs Seen as Failing to Meet Basic Needs”. A link to the article is here:

According to the research reported on here, minimum wages would need to be significantly more, to enable families to live at a level where more than just absolute basic needs could be met. Ehrenreich conducted her experiment all the way back in 1998; we as a society still face similar issues, today. The more things change, the more they stay the same?


On (Not) Getting By in America

I would find it almost impossible to live off of minimum wage even in Massachusetts where we have one of the highest at $8.00 an hour. Ehrenreicht says that according to the Coalition for the Homeless, in 1998 it took an hourly wage of $8.89 to afford a one bedroom apartment. Costs of living have only gone up since 1998.

When you add children to the equation, it becomes necessary to work more than one job to make ends meet unless you want to live in the crowded (and many times full) homeless shelters. It then becomes necessary to provide for child care which isn’t cheap. Welfare would be an option but providing for two kids takes money and no matter what aid a mother gets, if she is earning minimum wage, food and basic needs will go unmet.

As much as it would be great for minimum wage to go up, small business owners are strapped already and raising wages would put some businesses under which would be counterproductive.


I truely am not sure what type of calculation the United States government does in order to agree on minimum wage.  They feel that the set wage is enough for a family to eat, have shelter, have clothing?  Where is it that they see this happening? I personally, have lived and visited many, many different parts of this great country.  I have seen the poorest parts of Mississippi and I have seen the richest parts of New York City.  I can not imagine a family of four surviving on less than eight dollars on hour.

Yes, I admit there are plenty of government assistance plans out there. However, they do not take the burden of the parents’ backs who are bringing home eight dollar an hour paychecks.  These plans help, sure, but they do not make things easy.  The hoops you have to jump through, the stigma you carry, the embarrassment and loss of dignity you feel when you sit across the desk from someone you imagine has never been in your shoes, and you say, “I can’t feed my children”, or “The heating company turned off my heat”.  As Barbara Ehrenreich says in her article, “I am ‘baby,’ ‘honey,’ ‘blondie,’ and, most commonly, ‘girl’.”  Then there are the many, many families who do not qualify.  Those who make one hundred dollars a month too much. Those families are turned away and left to fend for themselves. 

In Barbara’s article she has a job paying her $7 an hour. With this pay she finds herself an apartment for $500 a month.  This is so incredibly unrealistic in my opinion.  Living here in Berkshire County, you would most likely get a job at about $8 an hour.  If you are single with no children, sure, you could find a one bedroom apartment for $500 a month or less. However, if you are a single mother with at least one child, according to the law, you must have at least a two bedroom apartment.  In this area you are looking at paying more around $600 or $700 a month. Most daycares charge around $200 a week for a full time slot.  Then of course there are your regular utilities, your vehicle if you have one, bus passes if you don’t, groceries, clothing… it goes on and on. 

I understand as Americans we are lucky to have the programs in place that we have.  I am even one who is lucky enough to be on a couple of them.  However, I am one who has to do the hoop jumping and the dignity loosing.  It is possible to live on minimum wage. But not with dependants, not without government assistance. Like Ehrenreich states at the end, “The thinking behind welfare reform was that even the humblest jobs are morally uplifting and psycologically buoying.  In reality they are likely to be fraught with insult and stress.” 

Unless you are one of the lucky few to break the cycle and get out of poverty levels, you will continue to face the burdens and struggles along with the indignities and insults.