Nickel And Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich: A look at Social Immobility in America

Essay by istealpantsCollege, Undergraduate December 2008

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"For the first time in our history it is possible to conquer poverty."- Lyndon B. Johnson, March 16, 1964The American Dream is an idea that many Americans hold dear. It is the idea that no matter what hand you are dealt, you can improve your life through hard work and determination. A working class person may believe that they can achieve social mobility, and move up in class standing by working hard and contributing their efforts to our capitalist society, when in fact that same system is keeping them down.

Placement in our current economic system is a very important factor that determines life chances. It is said that we live in a class system, where status is achieved, but the book Nickel and Dimed attempts to display our society as a caste system, where status is ascribed to individuals. Barbara Ehrenreich displays that there are many avenues in life that are simply not open to the poor.

She also shows that even after hard work and obedience to management the chance to move up in class standing is very rare.

The first example of this that was apparent in Nickel and Dimed is that for a single woman to simply pay for decent housing and food she must work more than one job. This is because the cost of living has increased and the wages of low-end workers have not. How are people expected to achieve upward social mobility if they spend all of their waking hours working? How are they supposed to get an education to improve their lot? It has been said that education is "the great equalizer", but the fact is that education is just not available for everyone in our society.

There are also many hidden charges for the poor described in Nickel and Dimed.