Conflict Theory In Nickeled And Dimed

America’s middle-class is rapidly disappearing. In the last few decades, Americans have been struggling to pay a living wage. This has led to many people having to take on multiple jobs in order to survive. Barbara Ehrenreich’s non-fiction book Nickeled and Dimed is On (Not). Getting by In America shows these difficulties. She goes undercover and lives in America with low wages. The goal is to earn enough rent to cover the month in each city. She finds many challenges in her journey, both her own and those of her coworkers. Her experiences show the real-world implications of social conflict theory.

Ehrenreich stepped into Nickeled or Dimed to become a poor working citizen. This meant that she established a low rental living situation, worked a low pay job, and attempted to get the funds to move to each area. Each area she visited was chosen for its highest wages, best housing and her ability to continue working. She described the whole process as an experiment. Even though she was trying to find the best job, the lowest-paying housing, and the highest wage, she had to try to make it work. Her first job is as a waitress at small local restaurants. Ehrenreich realizes that just a waitress job is not enough to sustain her family so she takes on a second job at a nearby hotel as a maid. However, the job soon becomes too demanding for her and she leaves. She decides she can’t afford rent after two weeks. Portland, Maine is Ehrenreich’s second home. Although she cannot find an apartment in Portland, Ehrenreich uses the weekly rental hotels to rent a room at a reasonable price to live in for one month. On weekdays she works as a housekeeper and on weekends, as a dietary assistant in a nursing facility. Although she manages to pay her rent, she also describes the working conditions of the housekeepers. Ehrenreich attempts living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This is where Ehrenreich finds herself stuck. While she does get a job with the Wal-Mart in her area, it is extremely low-paying. It is impossible for her to afford food beyond fast food. Ehrenreich documents the internal workings at Wal-Mart, including the treatment of the employees and her unsuccessful attempts for better treatment. Like the previous month, this month was not successful in maintaining housing.

Nickeled and Dimed presents the Marxist-based Conflict Theory as the largest sociological theory. According to conflict theory, people with different levels of wealth or power will exploit those who are less powerful. Ehrenreich found that low-wage workers were frequently treated poorly by their employers. They were often referred to as “George” and sometimes insulted. Florida’s conflict theory at work came down to a coworker of Ehrenreich, a Czech dishwasher she calls George. George didn’t know English well and it resulted in a large language barrier. Some items go missing from George’s first week at work and he is then accused of theft. George is fired by the company because of language barriers.

The training video for the Portland housekeeping job was demeaning and demonstrates conflict theory well. The video looked like it was made for children. One section even had the instructions given by the man. Health-related issues are ignored or remarked upon with no apology.

One housekeeper’s behavior demonstrates the fear instilled into the lower classes by conflict theory dominance. Holly, also known as Holly, refused medical attention for her injured ankle. She was unable walk normally without pain. Holly was afraid that her circumstances would prevent her from working and she might lose her job. This would make it impossible for Holly to maintain her modest living conditions. Holly discovered that she was pregnant and refused to make any mention of it. Ehrenreich requested that Holly be seen by a doctor. Holly was not allowed to leave work for one day. This fear has allowed the upper classes to retain control over the low class.

Wal-Mart also displayed conflict theory and its poor treatment of employees. Ehrenreich found the job monotonous and stressful at Minneapolis Wal-Mart when she was there. Interviews included a series questions that were designed to make potential employees feel scrutinized from the beginning. These questions also covered moral dilemmas like dealing with coworkers who steal or are dishonest. The drug test followed this stage. This implied distrust and assumption that all applicants use drugs was evident. These examples showed how corporations, both upper and lower classes, automatically judge the best of employees from the lowest class and try to suppress them. Eight hours of repetitive, tedious teachings about Wal-Mart’s ideology and propaganda were required for the orientation process. Much of this emphasised how great Wal-Mart is. Ehrenreich was able to see that every issue raised by employees at Wal-Mart would be ignored once he had become a Wal-Mart employee. Howard, the Wal-Mart manager, used to harass employees who started talking and accuse them, among other things, of time theft or not being active while working. Ehrenreich also points out that competition can lead to unhealthy relationships. Coworkers will bring up any mistake made by lower-class employees and make fun of the culprit. These issues can lead to workers becoming hostile to each other. Corporate strategy prevents employees from cooperating in ways that will benefit them and their employers.

In the end, conflict theory is exacerbated by the income-to-cost ratio. Low-wage workers often struggle to find enough income to sustain themselves, even with low-cost housing options. Ehrenreich says that low-wage workers are subject to a lack of civil liberties. They are often forced to work for very little and are subject to long hours. Although the upper class may believe that employment is the only way to end poverty, Ehrenreich’s and many others’ experiences throughout the experiment show that even simple employment is not enough to make ends meet in today’s economy and society. The belief system that the poor are still poor because of their inability to work hard and laziness continues to prevail over the lower classes. There is little or no action to address poverty.

Barbara Ehrenreich demonstrates the truth of social conflict theory in her personal experience with poverty-level wages. Many jobs that are accessible to the poor are not well-paid and provide little support. Many of these businesses leave behind insufficient money for their hard-working workers to rent rent every month. Lower-class workers are often required to work longer hours to earn a little more. Ehrenreich’s stories showed the difficulties that many Americans face just to have a normal American life. And how their employers don’t do enough to help. This is the ultimate example of social conflict theory.


  • kaylarusso

    Kayla Russo is an educational blogger and volunteer and student. She is a 27 yo educational blogger and volunteer and student who loves to help others learn.



Kayla Russo is an educational blogger and volunteer and student. She is a 27 yo educational blogger and volunteer and student who loves to help others learn.

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