Vanguard Spotlight Book of the Month: October 2016

Monthly Reads from ASU-Beebe Students, Faculty and Staff.

Faculty/Staff/Student Favorites

Each month Abington Library will feature a favorite book from a faculty, staff member, or student. They will give a brief synopsis of their chosen book.

Featured ASU-Beebe Staff Member: Jason Henry

About Jason

Jason is the Coordinator of Career/Transfer Services at ASU-Beebe.

About the Book

Review of “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America” by Barbara Ehrenreich

Understanding and appreciating diversity is something I have always sought and valued; I believe understanding, appreciating, and celebrating our differences are what make the human race so beautiful.

Growing up in rural, southern Arkansas, I thought I understood, first-hand, the working poor. After all, my father grew up in poverty and my mother’s parents worked very hard and lived paycheck to paycheck. As a child then adolescent, I watched my parents slowly pull themselves up into the lower middle class with a hard work ethic and good moral compass. My parents raised me with the values that an honest day’s work earned an honest day’s wage, that if I worked hard I could achieve my dreams, and to treat everyone with dignity and respect along the way.

But, a few years ago, I stumbled upon “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America” by Barbara Ehrenreich and it turned my perspective and understanding about the working poor on its head. Where I once thought I understood and valued the unique experiences of poor people, I quickly realized I knew very little about them after reading this book.

Ehrenreich, an accomplished reporter who lived a privileged life, was inspired by rhetoric surrounding welfare reform in the late 1990’s to go undercover and live as one of the millions of Americans who work full-time for low wages to understand and document their experiences trying to survive. She set out to understand how anyone can survive, let alone prosper, on $6 to $7 an hour. She worked jobs millions of Americans work every day—waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Walmart associate. What she soon learned was the “lowliest” occupations required exhausting mental and physical effort but provided almost no return; she struggled to find transportation to work, affordable housing or the ability to afford utilities, access to quality food, and little to no respect from others outside her socioeconomic structure.

Today, I contemplate if any of Ehrenreich’s experiences have changed for millions of Americans, including many of the students we serve at ASU-Beebe. Many of our students do back breaking work at low-wage jobs, raise their families on little income, and struggle to afford opportunities for themselves and their children. Over the last two decades we have seen wage stagnation and a shrinking middle class. Americans are working harder and longer hours but seeing very little return on this investment. But what I do know is that without a good education, opportunities for socioeconomic advancement are almost non-existent for people in poverty.

Therefore, I feel that if I am to help my students succeed with their education, I need to fully comprehend the circumstances surrounding their lives so that I can learn to develop professional strategies to help them reach their goals.  This is why I recommend “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America” for anyone who seeks to understand the lives of the working poor from their personal perspectives.

Jason Henry

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