Use of Rhetoric in Nickel and Dime by Barbara Ehrenreich

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Use of Rhetoric in Nickel and Dime by Barbara Ehrenreich

In her expose, Nickel and Dime, Barbara Ehrenreich shares her experience of what it is like for unskilled women to be forced to be put into the labor market after the welfare reform that was going on in 1998. Ehrenreich wanted to capture her experience by retelling her method of “uncover journalism” in a chronological order type of presentation of events that took place during her endeavor. Her methodologies and actions were some what not orthodox in practice. This was not to be a social experiment that was to recreate a poverty social scenario, but it was to in fact see if she could maintain a lifestyle working low wage paying jobs the way 4 million women were about to experience it. Although Ehrenreich makes good use of rhetoric (ethos, pathos, logos), she is very effective at portraying pathos, trying to get us to understand why we should care about a social situation such as this through, credibility, emotion, and logic.
Like most people whom conduct experiments, Ehrenreich must first establish credibility of her knowledge of this subject. She does this in her introduction in numerous ways. Ehrenreich comes out saying that she has a Ph.D in biology but has a fancy for writing. She starts off with her exposure to low wage paying jobs by using her sister and her husband a companion for over a decade. Her sister, who use to work for the phone company as a sales representative, a factory work and receptionist who described it her experiences as “the hopelessness of being a wage slave”. Her husband use to work for $4.50 an hour in a warehouse before he was fortunate enough to land a good paying job with the union workers the Teamsters.
Ehrenreich’s use of statistical information also proves to her audience that she in fact has done her research on this topic. She admits that poverty is a social topic that she frequently talks about. She researched that in 1998 the National Coalition for the Homeless reported that nationwide on average it would take about a wage of $8.89 to afford a one bedroom apartment and that the odds of common welfare recipients landing a job that pays such a “living wage” were about 97 to 1. Ehrenreich experiences this statistic in first person when she set out job hunting in Key West, Florida when she applied to 20 different jobs, ranging from wait tables to housekeeping, and of those applications, zero were responded to.

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She figures that want ads and wanted signs are not a reliable source of finding a job, but rather a way to build a supply of applicants to replace current workers due to low retention rates within the service industry. She learns that job availability is more about being in the right place at the right time.
Though she shows obvious knowledge of her subject, she does not use much logic to her practice. Ehrenreich shows much instability in her research. She admits that her main object was not to recreate a situation of poverty and show not what low wage income workers lives were like on a day to day basis, but rather to show how 4 million American women were forced into the labor market off welfare, from the welfare reform in 1998, and show how their experiences were going to be. Her logic is a little off beat if you will. Ehrenreich could have presented her evidence topically; for example, she could have discussed each of the single mothers she met along the way, each housing experience she had, with each manager she met. However, she presents her evidence chronologically. She probably does this because it better develops her narrative style-- she recounts her journey as a story. Ehrenreich also could have presented herself as a scholar who was writing a book and conducted interviews. However, her story becomes more provocative if she goes undercover. She is also able to present a more vibrant narrative if she can populate the story with her own impressions, aches and pains, and difficulties. Ehrenreich admits that she is only “filling in” for people who do this full time. She admits that she had other advantages over her co-workers, a car being one of them. Ehrenreich used her ability to start off with a starting set of money to set up a job; meaning, that she had already set aside money to provide rent, deposit, and expenses such as food and gas. Most low wage workers do not have this luxury. They generally work pay check to pay check and don’t have time to save up to stash extra money for later. She learns this through her co-workers as she investigates into their lives and finds out that most of them live with multiple people, or within parking lots.
Most of Ehrenreich’s co-workers did not have a means of transportation other then public transportation, or their transportation was their place of residency. Most lived in flophouses, shared rooms, trailers, or hotel rooms. She also gave herself the luxury of being able to dip into her own money that was saved up from her “real” job. She makes a friend with one of her co-workers, Gail from the Hearthside, and at the end of chapter one, after she leaves her job, she gives Gail her keys to her apartment so she could move out of her flophouse that she pays $250 a week that she has been sharing with someone. Like she said she was not trying to recreate poverty, but just experience it. She would not let herself suffer by any means. She even went home to pick up cd’s and drink a bottle of wine after work.
Now, this is where I feel that Barbara Ehrenreich actually makes a connection with her audience. Her use of pathos, I feel, was the strongest argument that she could have made through this book. Why do we care about this? Why should her audience care about welfare reform when the majority of her audience is either affluent or have never experienced these social situations? I say that because if her audience was of low income, they would not have the income to purchase this book, or not have the capacity to sit here and read a biography of their life, because they experience it everyday. The pathos is the concept of this book. Why should we care about that 30% of America’s work force is working for under $8 and hour? We’ll personally I find that disturbing. Having been in this situation numerous occasions, I find that it is hard to provide for yourself within these circumstances. Paying rent alone eats the majority of most people’s incomes. Why do you think most apartment complex’s and lenders require you to make at least twice the rent in salary to rent or lend through them as a prerequisite? Now, factor in a car, insurances, and bills. Don’t even get me started on a family! The average American family has 4 people per household. Barbara Ehrenreich is trying to provide for herself, what would happen if she had to provide for 3 others? It is not possible to provide them with a comfortable lifestyle with that low of a wage, and with only one person providing for a family of 4. I don’t believe it is possible, even with 2 people providing 2 incomes to provide a livable lifestyle. Low wage income workers are not provided with luxuries such as health care, which I think every American should get free, so they for them to get hurt, Is really detrimental to their ability to earn a living.
Barbara Ehrenreich shows a lot of emotion in this chapter, specifically when she explains how she wakes up in cold sweats from orders she remembers from her shift when she messed them up or ruined other individuals meals. She was hurt emotionally by them. She also showed emotion at the end of the chapter when she quit her job and just walked out, she hated herself for being a quitter, but the frustration of the management finally for to her and she was overwhelmed by her duties and inability to do them. She claims that the management of jobs like this is really their more to baby sit and order people around. She never really liked the way management treated people and assumed that it was always the immigrants that were the cause of problems. Ehrenreich also claimed that she didn’t care much for the disrespect by people (managers) calling her such names such as “baby, honey, blondie or girl”.
Barbara Ehrenreich’s experiences with her co-workers were her strong points in this expose. They provided factual information on how people who earn a low income wage actually live, and how troubled their lives can actually be. Her use of pathos, shows emphasizes her point. The weakness of her story is that she loses scientific objectivity by doing undercover field work but having safety nets. She frames her experience with secondary literature, statistics, and newspaper articles. Therefore, Ehrenreich makes the assumption that her personal experience is a valid way of estimating what a low wage lifestyle is like. She assumes that in framing her experience with other literature, she will bolster her argument.


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