Barbara Ehrenreich's Research and Economic Findings in Nickel and Dimed

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For her book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Barbara Ehrenreich, a middle-aged female investigative journalist, assumed the undercover position of a newly divorced housewife returning to work after several years of unemployment. The premise for Ehrenreich to go undercover in this way was due to her belief that a single mother returning to work after years of being on welfare would have a difficult time providing for her family on a low or minimum wage. Her cover story was the closest she could get to that of a welfare mother since she had no children and was not on welfare. During the time she developed the idea for the book, “roughly four million women about to be booted into the labor market by welfare reform” were going to have to survive on a $6 or $7 an hour wage; the wage of the inexperienced and uneducated. This paper will discuss Ehrenreich's approach to the research, her discoveries, and the economic assumptions we can make based on the information presented in her book. Ehrenreich adopted the sociologist's tool of an ethnography for her research. She became a covert participant observer while at the jobs she worked. As such, she did not expose herself as a journalist to her coworkers until the conclusion of each job. She did this in order to not experience the Hawthorne Effect; the effect that happens when people knowingly are observed and therefore change their normal habits to please the observer. While the book was an interesting read and her personal experiences enlightening to many of the low wage worker's dilemmas and alienating jobs, her pitfalls in research outweigh her strengths. There are several inconsistencies about the situations that Ehrenreich placed herself in and the real li... ... middle of paper ... ...Even with the pitfalls in Ehrenreich's research, she managed to shine a light on the everyday plight of the low wage worker. She achieved employment at several different low wage service jobs and she also achieved friendliness with the coworkers there. Unfortunately, she could not achieve her goal of making enough money to pay the following month's rent at her accommodations, as she dictated to be her sign of success at the beginning of the project. Without this success, she can truly say that the plight of the low wage worker and the women leaving welfare is an extremely difficult one with great hardship and lack of fulfillment as these participants of the lower class work day to day to keep their chins up and make do with what, even if little, they have. Works Cited Ehrenreich, B. (2011). Nicke and dimed: On (not) getting by in america. New York, NY: Picador.
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