Sunday, January 31, 2016

Attention Walmart Shoppers

In Louise Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich works many low-wage jobs to test what it's like to have to survive in poverty. One of such jobs was as a Walmart "associate", folding and unpacking carts of tried-on cloths for for $7.00 an hour, eleven hours a day. What she discovered here was that in large corporations, such as Walmart, workers are suppressed by corporate strategies that trap them into unfair wages, health benefits, etc.

One such method, as Ehrenreich learns during an eight our long training session, is the demonizing of the idea of unionization. For example, various associates told her in thus training session of this sense of family all Walmart employees have, leading Ehrenreich to the conclusion that Walmart was trying to convince these new employees that, "Once, long ago, unions had a place in American society, but they 'no longer have much to offer workers'"(145). She continues, "Walmart is booming; unions are declining: judge for yourself" (145). Unions aide workers and establish a fundamental basis at which a large corporation such as Walmart must meet. Unions make workers life easier and by convincing and tricking workers into accepting bellow average wages and benefits such as healthcare. While working there, she explains, "I feel oppressed too, by the mandatory gentility of Walmart culture" (156). And with little to no benefits, Ehrenreich explains Walmart employees are, "real-life charity cases, maybe even shelter dwellers" (175).

The codependent relationship between blue collar and white collar workers in such companies have become a problem that needs to be addressed. Unionization, raising the minimum wage, programs such as Medicare, are all things that can help low-wage workers and establish their rights. No longer shall Walmart, "rather just keep hiring new people [rather] than treating the ones it has decently" (184).

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Let's Talk About Privilege


Barbra Ehrenreich, a successful upper-middle class journalist, set out to expose what poverty is truly like by diving headfirst into it. What she discovered, as written in her book Nickel and Dimed, is that in poverty, "starting conditions are everything"(27). 

This, sadly, is a hard reality many of the United State's 46 million people in poverty. As Ehrenreich describes it, poverty is a black whole that without the proper starting block is quite frankly far to easy to fall into. For example, Ehrenreich tells of a young girl names Holly who she works for a popular Maid company in Maine. Holly works for minimum wage (around $6.50 per hour) all the while trying to feed and support her husband and elderly relatives on $30-50 a week (95). She is quite often too poor to buy herself lunch and resorts to a small cracker sandwich for a seven hour day of manual labor. Cases like these are unfortunate in themselves but the real tragedy is the spiral effect of unfortunate events that result for living in poverty- an example, health care. One in four adults can't afford medical attention they need, even after purchasing health insurance. Without necessary medical attention, many working-class jobs wouldn't be doable. Without money from these working-class jobs, debt starts to pile up which can lead to eviction, starvation, etc. People are suffering, and something needs to be done about it.

These struggles raise the question of how this system of deep poverty and cycle of despair can be changed. It all comes back to the concept of privilege. People who are able to afford a home, be properly educated, etc. are so much more likely to be able to support themselves. Perhaps the question is not how can poverty be stopped, because having a class of the poor is inevitable in capitalistic society, but rather how can we spread equal opportunity- equal privilege- to everyone. There is no distinct answer of how to do this, but with programs such as Obamacare, we are stepping in the right direction.