I am interested in matters relating to poverty and economics, so I was drawn to this book because I thought it might provide some insight into
In this book, Barbara Ehrenreich decides to pose undercover as a low-wage worker across the country in an attempt to prove the groundbreaking idea that at minimum wage, the working poor cannot "get by" in the United States and that the welfare system is in need of reform. She takes on jobs as a waitress, maid, and Wal-mart associate in order to present what life is like on the other side of the poverty gap in America.
The author seems to have previously lived her life somehow protected from reality and shielded by a form of upper-class cluelessness. The book almost brings to mind a literary version of The Simple Life, where Ehrenreich comes off as a more highly educated, but just as desperate, Paris and Nicole. She doesn't want a roommate? She'll just use her back-up funds. She gets a skin-rash from cleaning supplies? She'll just contact her personal dermatologist. She has to clean a toilet while she is a maid? She'll complain about it to no end and suggest those who do their jobs without pitying themselves are less human than she is.
In her attempt to report on the struggles of the working poor who barely scrape by on minimum wage jobs, the author showed little compassion for the people with whom she worked and into whose lives she never integrated herself. I’d suggest that she even comes across as looking down on them and not valuing their lives as equal to her own. A certain smugness is ever-present regarding her education and “better” way of life. For me, the constant hope that people would notice that she was different got old fast.
I believe that her failure to integrate herself into the lives of her coworkers was also debilitating to her research. By not engaging in the same social interactions as her coworkers, I think that she didn't get a holistic picture on what it would mean to get by in
The book is also oddly offensive to those she is often trying to “help.” Throughout the book she makes offensive statements about most ethnic minorities as well as rude generalizations and assumptions about those who are overweight and don't look like her. Her insensitive assessment of Wal-Mart employees needing only the abilities of a ‘deaf-mute’ or someone with autism was at best demeaning. In her attempt to promote social justice, she often comes across as patronizing and condescending toward those for whom she claims to fight.
Constantly complaining about manual labor being physically hard, her clothes smelling like the restaurants in which she works, and her lack of fancy food and a nice drink every evening, the reader becomes less and less sympathetic to this self-centered writer who most likely had never previously spent much time outside of her privileged lifestyle. Instead of her endless whining about her own discomfort, it would have been nice if Ehrenreich spent more time talking about social impacts of poverty and relaying the experiences of her coworkers who are truly poor.
In this book the reader finds out much about Barbara Ehrenreich but fairly little about the difficult lives of people she worked with, and nearly nothing about what she would suggest the community do to make the lives of the working poor easier.