Twenty-nine percent of Americans suffer from poverty and economic hardships every year, forcing them to do things such as skip meals, and prohibiting them from paying their rent, according to political essayist Barbara Ehrenrich”s lecture last night addressing the plight of low-wage workers in America.
Ehrenreich was the featured speaker at the 10th annual Mullin-Welch lecture, sponsored by The Center for the Education of Women.
“No job is unskilled,” said Ehrenrich. “Every job takes intelligence, concentration and stamina.”
Ehrenreich based her lecture on her best-selling book, “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.” She described her undercover journalistic experience of living in three different cities, working a total of five low-paying jobs, including a maid, a nursing home aide and a hotel room cleaner in an attempt to make ends meet as many other Americans do every day.
Ehrenreich said she undertook the task of trying to live off her low wages in each city and situation but she found that it was near impossible.
Not only were the jobs mentally demanding in terms of memorization of rules, they were also physically demanding, she said, recalling the various cleaning jobs where she often cleaned on her hands and knees for hours on end.
“The difficulties of living with a low-wage job affect all aspects of living such as costs of housing, childcare, and Medicaid,” said Ehrenreich.
“The work ethic I had grown up with work hard and you will get ahead was not true.” Ehrenreich said. “Try to tell that to the near 60 percent of hard-working Americans that make under $14 an hour.”
Ehrenreich said that while the experiences were harrowing and difficult, she probably had it easy being white and English-speaking. She emphasized that many minorities and non-native English speakers don”t have it as easy.
Ehrenreich ended with a standing ovation and by saying that “Low wages insult and betray what I thought were the values of America.”
LSA sophomore Shyla Kinhal, who came to the lecture for her Community Strategies Against Poverty Class, said, “We live in this bubble at the University. We as students need to be more aware of the issues that surround poverty and the government”s role in it.”
University alum Julie Evans came from Detroit to hear the famed journalist because the book interested her so much. “Ehrenreich is not advocating the welfare state, but realistic living wages that”s what is important,” Evans said.