Tuesday, October 17, 2006

It's in a book

I just finished and brought back to the library last night:
Bachelor Girl: The Secret History of Single Women in the Twentieth Century by Betsy Israel. It's an interesting book about the flappers and the Gibson Girl, but it seemed to sort of end in the ‘60’s, not too much about modern bachelor women. And she seemed to focus on white women from NYC mostly. Still, I enjoyed reading the book.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich who took jobs as a motel maid, food waitress, and at Wart Mart. It was also interesting but I feel that she “cheated” by starting off with money and by having a car. It was heartbreaking to read about people working hard, managing money wisely and still not making it in our economy. I’m not too far removed from my poverty days and well remember being just too tired from the logistics of pure survival to worry much about the future. And maybe that was just as well, as the future does not look very bright for most people in that situation. The work is hard, they lose their health but cannot afford medicine or healthy food.

It’s a sad and sobering book even though she kind of bombs out in wrapping up her story in the last chapter. One reviewer at Amazon said:
She discovered that while no job is truly "unskilled," the low wage jobs that she got made physical demands, some of which could be damaging if performed month after month--even for a physically fit person. She found few no rewards for heroic performance, that "the trick lies in figuring out how to budget your energy so there'll be some left over for the next day" (p. 195). She found that it is nearly impossible to earn enough money to survive on with just a single job, even during the tight labor market of 1999:

"Something is wrong, very wrong, when a single person in good health, a person who in addition possesses a working car, can barely support herself by the sweat of her brow. You don't need a degree in economics to see that wages are too low and rents too high" (p. 199).

She examines the pressures exerted on workers to keep them subservient and from asserting their power. She challenges the idea that we are a democracy if large numbers of citizens spend half their waking hours in what amounts to a "dictatorship" in the workplace. She also speculates on the depressive effects of the disempowerment to which the "working poor" must submit.

Also, needless to say, there were many appalled reviewers of this book who insisted that the poor could rise above it with more education, better job skills, a better work ethic, etc. The word "bleeding liberal" or some such was bandied about. Even though finishing my degree was exactly how I escaped poverty and did so when my son wasn’t even school age yet and we had no car, I was lucky. Many or most of the poor don’t have the time or energy (or credit to get student loans) to go back to school when they have no car and small children. I had a friend who tried to do the same thing and the college would not enroll her because of her grades in high school. Most don’t have a two-year start like I did, either.

Someday I’ll write about the joys of dragging a (well-bundled) child on a sled through the snow to get groceries or go to the laundromat. Or the wonderful walk uphill to the daycare, and then several miles more to work in all types of weather, working a hard day of nine hours at work (eight plus an unpaid lunch), and then walking uphill to the daycare and then home again to cook dinner totally from scratch and do domestic chores! I averaged walking eight miles per day and wore out my shoes. Had to wear a couple pair of socks in them to keep warm in the winter because of the holes. My poor son was in daycare for almost ten hours per day. It’s a tough way to live. Maybe I won’t write about it after all. I’d rather just forget it like many things in my past, they just make me sad, or angry. And life goes on.

Along that same topic, here’s a book I want to find and read:
Christopher Hyatt reflects on the methods of modern slavery in Who Owns the Planet Earth:
"While most humans agree that slavery is evil - that the ownership of one human by another is immoral - few humans equate slavery with enforced education, welfare, health, and the idea of a perfect orderly universe. Slavery is usually associated with power over others and with the ability to enforce one's will on another without the fear of retaliation.

OK, once again I’ve gone on far too long. Have a good Tuesday!


Blogger Michelle said...

How very interesting. With respect to the last book, i wonder if enforced education etc is slavery? I'm trying to think og an alternative word, its late here and my brain is a fuzz, i just am a wee bit unsure that i'd call it slavery. Sounds like a fascinating read though, i hope you find it and report back to us :o)

6:42 AM  
Blogger Happy and Blue 2 said...

Nickel and Dimed sounds like an interesting book. I've worked the kinds of jobs mentioned and like you said so well it does make you sad and angry.
And the last book you mentioned sounds interesting.
Have a good Tuesday..

7:36 AM  
Blogger deni said...

I am one of those who really wanted an education and could never afford it.

When I was raising my kids on my own, it was tough, there were days when we barely had enough food, then the heating costs, rent, and things the kids needed like shoes. There was never any room or money for luxeries.

Things are still tough, but a lot better than they were then. I think times like that just make us stronger.

7:49 AM  
Blogger BikerCandy said...

Interesting post. I truly believe that people that haven't struggled at some point in their life really have no idea what it means to be poor and have no options. While I've never been a single mom we have had our share of hard times and while they make me angry still to think about them, I also am proud and happy of where I am now. I don't think I would like to read that book though. For some reason someone "pretending" to be poor just isn't the same as someone who truly is.

9:48 AM  
Blogger sumo said...

It's weird...but I've worked with people not not well educated and certainly low wage earners...yet they drove a newer car and had newer furniture...and in a few cases were building a better house than what I have. These were people playing the system and getting from the government. They didn't marry the father of their children deliberately so they could get that help. The father lived with them...had a job...so that was 2 incomes plus the government aid. It used to tie me up in knots to hear them talk amongst themselves about what they could get from the government...and they got income tax money back per year in the thousands. Now...either they cheated (with one child) or something is wrong with this picture. I didn't have much beyond a house and University tuition to claim so I pretty much got zip in return. I was management and these folks did better than I could hope for. I'm out of there and glad of it...I don't have to listen to them brag anymore. Side note...they were slackers BTW!

But I'm glad the help is there just the same for those that genuinely need it. Fortunately I haven't...but who knows what is in the future for any of us.

5:15 PM  
Blogger Magpie said...

what a selection, very hard going by the sounds of it...i can well understand how people can't manage however well they budget, i don't think i could pay bills if i was on my own, believe me i've added it up...


5:53 AM  
Blogger Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

Wow....eight miles a day??? That is TOUGH! It's amazing what the human body can endure when it HAS to get something done, isn't it?

I now think about some of the physical stuff I did when I was a bit younger...working days, going to school at night, staying up late...I know I couldn't do it now.

8:44 AM  
Blogger St Yves said...

My Mom made her book group (of Southern upper middle class women) read "Nickeled and Dimed" and she was pretty horrified about their insensitivity. I'm glad you blogged it- because its an important book. The book made me sad because I work with so many people who are in that situation. Plus, I live in a town without public trans- but at the same time- I also get sick of people whining about walking a mile or two- when I do that on purpose. I guess its like the man who runs the Youth services in town said, "You want a safety net strong enough that no one slips through, but full of enough holes that no one stays in who needs to be doing more." I guess, I just wish more people I knew realized how lucky and fortunate they truly are.

3:23 PM  

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