Ain’t No Makin It
In this paper I will explore some concepts that I saw that were prevalent in her undercover research. Weberian Sociology The first concept that I immediately grasped was Max Weber’s theory of stratification of equality. Weber’s view of stratification differed from the one-dimensional class theory of Karl Marx. Weber theorized that there are three different factors that help shape class formation, class status, and party. All but the latter of the three were evident in the book. The first notion of Weber’s notion on class stated that people with common occupations, earning approximately similar incomes, constitute a class. Marger p. 39) In each city that she worked in the living conditions and earnings were about the same, most of her coworkers had living arrangements that involved sharing housing with someone other than their spouse, if they had one. Another trait that was displayed from here coworkers in each city was the proximity of where they lived into relation to where they worked. Transportation plays a key role in life chances for people. If a person is mobile they may go for that higher paying job on the other side of town.
Weber’s second theory of social stratification of inequality, status, was made evident while Barbara was working in Maine. While Barbara worked in Maine as a maid she noticed how convenience store clerks, who made $. 65 less than she made an hour, look at her and her coworkers as if they were beneath them. Another example of this was when she stated that everywhere she went people looked at the uniform and instantly regarded her and her coworkers as lower class citizens. People saw there green and yellow uniforms like the white and black stripes of a convict and that their style of life isn’t as good as people in their social class.
One particular instance when she bought a beer from the grocery store she could feel the cold stares that implied that the reason she had that maid job was because all her money was going to support her alcohol habit; even though Barbara has a PH. D and probably made more money than many of them all they saw was a lower class citizen. Social Mobility Another sociological concept that prevalent of the working poor that was portrayed in the book was the theory of social mobility. It will be difficult for many of Barbara’s ex-coworkers to ever move into a different class because mobility rates in the U.
S. have been on a decline over the past five decades. It is said in America that everyone can lace up their boots and pull themselves out of poverty but mobility is getting harder to accomplish. One factor of mobility is marriage; statistical data has said that women that never marry are 16% to 19% more likely to fall out of the middle class. Barbara worked with three females, Gail, Annette, and Marianne, who all fell into this statistic. Two of the three women lived with boyfriends but since they were not married it will be statically harder to make their way up the class ladder .
Married women usually benefit from their husbands class and prestige; “shacking up” is not conducive to women making a climb up the ladder. Gender is another factor that hinders mobility; although the workplace has gotten better the fact still remains that women are still far behind men. In this system of inequality women have to work harder and are not usually respected as much as men. In lower paying jobs, like the ones Barbara worked, most of her coworkers were woman with a man being their immediate supervisor; the only exception was Linda which was her supervisor at the nursing home she worked at in Maine.
This injustice to women played a major role in her life as an undercover journalist. Immigration to United States also dictates class mobility. Barbara worked with people from Haiti and the Czech Republic. The movement of immigrants moving up the class ladder is getting harder to accomplish. The lower paying jobs that they had were jobs that many Americans do not want to do but Americans blame the immigrants for taking “good” jobs away from naturalized citizens, which in all actuality the immigrates create as many jobs as they take. (Marger p. 34) The current trend is that Americans look at unskilled foreign citizens as a burden and hindrance to the economic growth to America. Americans forget that their great – great grandfathers and great – great grandmothers came to this country looking for a better opportunity for their families and that they often had to jobs and work in conditions that most people did not want to work in. The lack of generational mobility was also displayed in the book. Social mobility can also be measured from one generation to another, how well the children of the previous generation do in their lives and workplace.
I mentioned earlier that one of the women who Barbara worked with was unmarried, Annette, well she has another tribulation that will hinder her movement up the social ladder; she lives with her mom. Instead of creating upward mobility for herself and her family she has gone down, Annette’s mother worked as a postal clerk. The social mobility of Annette’s family took a vertical turn downward and it’s highly unlikely that her life chances will promote upward growth. Horatio Alger Jr. The mythical days of success stories portrayed in Horatio Alger Jr. s books are long gone. Horatio Alger Jr. wrote and published stories were young men were able to change their class system and life chances by working hard to gain economic and social success. (Marger p. 98) In his stories the young man always worked hard and had good moral values to make it out of poverty. This concept inspired workers back then but the farce of the books still apply in today’s society. One farce of his books is that one can work harder only by working hard. A person can work hard all their lives and still not vertically move up the social ladder.
One question that rises to me is what the definition of hard work is; is hard work physical, mental, and/or both. In the book Barbara worked so hard that she had to ingest a heap of ibuprofen pills just to make it through the day; the deterioration of her body showed that she worked hard but the fact remained that neither Barbara or her coworkers could not move up the corporate ladder in the companies that they worked at. Alger Jr. Books also portrayed young men as heroes, excluding women, minorities, and immigrants. Times have changed since his books were published; there are women, minorities, and immigrants in the modern workforce.
These groups have entered the Caucasian male driven workforce to have the same opportunities of their white counterparts. Although in modern times the inequality of the groups has closed a meniscal amount each year those groups will never be the same across the board. Social Functions of Poverty The 2nd part of poverty, the political economy of capitalism, according to structural sociologist explains that poverty results from the way the economy and government operate. America is set to be a capitalistic society; in capitalistic society corporations profit first objective.
Corporations decide where to do business and structure employment and employee hours to maximize profits. The inequality of these practices was blatant in every city that Barbara worked in. Barbara first victimized to this practice while working as a waitress at the Hearthside Diner. The diner did not have a break room for employees. The employees were not allowed to have idle time, there was always something to clean, resupply, or make more visually pleasing. The objective of this was to get the employees to work continuously through their shifts without breaks.
The practice of this theory could also be seen while Barbara was working in Minnesota at Wal-Mart, the store had a policy that employees were not allowed to “time steal” ; all associates were told to always look for something to complete in the store. Wal-Mart also cross-trains it associates in different departments in order to be well-rounded; this is a capitalistic practice for validating not giving the employees a decent wage, if one employee has knowledge about many areas of the store then the company can maximize profits by just hiring one person to do the job instead of hiring more that are specialized in that particular section.
A dentist is a doctor but I would not want the dentist to perform open heart surgery on me because the dentist is only specialized to work on teeth. The best way to explain our capitalistic society is to quote Gail, Barbara’s coworker and training partner in Florida, said it best “They don’t cut you no slack. You give and you give, and they take. ”(Nickel and Dimed p. 22); because of these practices Gail vowed never to work for a corporation again. Economic Function of Poverty The 1st point of the economic function theory is that poor perform the dirty work of society because they have little choice to do other jobs.
Barbara’s coworkers were unskilled laborers so their opportunities for better employment were limited to jobs that require service instead of a skilled job. Another example of this in book was the story of Isabelle. Isabelle was a coworker of Barbara in Minnesota that previously worked as a waitress; she worked at a high class restaurant but when the restaurant closed she had to work at Wal-Mart because the available high class restaurants would not hire her because of her age.
The 2nd point of the economic function of poverty is that since poor people receive little wages that subsidize the rich and middle class. Over the past thirty years manufacturing jobs have been downsized or outsourced to other countries, most of the jobs in America now are service jobs. The jobs that Barbara worked at were all jobs that catered to servicing people’s needs and wants. The jobs that are offered to lower class citizens make the lives of the rich and middle class make life more “convenient”, the mind state of the rich and poor is I don’t want to do this so I can pay someone to do it for me.
The rich and middle class in today’s society rely on the underprivileged to do the work. There is not a caste system in America with serfs, but the two share similar values. Slavery in Modern Form The modern system of slavery in America has transformed from owning people to controlling people through economic exploitation. One technique of corporations to control the lives of their employees to implement the practice of a pre-job drug screen; in today’s society companies want to know want their employees do in their personal lives.
Although studies have shown that pre-employment testing does not lower turnover rates or absenteeism it is still a practice. I believe that employers should probe into the personal lives of their employees, what one does in their own time and not on the companies’ clock should not matter until it affects their performance on the job. Today’s society and companies assume that all lower class people do drugs that will hinder them from performing their jobs at an optimal level.
The fact is that people from every class ingest drugs into their bodies; the drug cocaine is preferred by other classes because the drug does not remain in the body for an extended period of time. Barbara had to experience this form of slavery when she applied for a job at Wal-Mart and Winn-Dixie in Minnesota. Barbara had to spend extra money on a detoxification drink that she did not really have, lower her sodium intake, and drink plenty of water to get marijuana out her system just to have employment at Wal-Mart.
Another example of employers assuming that workers use drugs was in Florida; the manager of the Hearthside Diner, Stu, assumed that the George was stilling money for drug, but in fact it was him that stealing money from the cash registrar. Religion Karl Marx examined the relationship between religious values and its effects on the economy; he concluded that the two things are essentially the result of capitalism; one cannot exist without the other. Marx examined this and published a book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism which detailed the relationship between the two.
Early protestant religious figures believed that working to acquire material success and wealth was an indicator that God chose that person to enter heaven and this believe is still practiced today. I believe that relationship to be true but do not believe in the philosophy behind it. Barbara visited a church tent revival in Maine and was preached on how Jesus gave up his life for the sins of his followers. I used to attend church regularly and I always wondered why the church would always ask for money to support different things within the church, tithing was pushed the most.
Tithing requires that one give the church at least 10% of their income, if people work and can barely make it on the low wages they earn it astonishes me how they give money to the church every week. I also agree with Barbara’s notion that Jesus was a sociologist, Jesus worked spreading the word of God and performing miracles but he was never paid for doing them. Barbara also mentioned in the book that the churches were always the place to go when one is down on their luck or experiencing tough times; she noted that one of the first things people said was to get help at a church.
Once again the church, because of people’s cultural values, is the center point focused on the poor. I believe that church reality wanted to end the poverty cycle and help people in poverty that the church would use their political power to stop poverty instead of lobbying in Congress to pass laws that hinder the poor. In conclusion Barbara Ehenreich’s book, Nickel and Dimed, had many sociological concepts within her travels from Florida, Maine, and finally Minnesota.
The jobs low wage jobs she took to see how lower class people survive gave validity to many of the sociological concepts I have learned in this class. There are many other concepts that were evident in the book but the concepts of Weberian Sociology, Social Mobility, Horatio Alger Jr. , Social Functions of Poverty, Slavery in Modern Form, and Religion were instantly apparent . The book gave deeper insight on how lower class people survive from low wages and demeaning jobs to make higher class people’s lives better.