How to read

One way to figure out how to read this book is to talk to people in the low wage work force. There are simply a lot of angry people out there working for low wages. Some of these workers are also part of management. Sometimes a manager will deliberately make an eyesore in his or her store to get rid of corporate inspectors. The idea is to get senior management to focus on an obvious problem so they will leave the store faster. On the subway, I once overheard a conversation between two workers who were talking about how they were going to break a few things on the day they quit. All you have to do is talk to a few people out there that are working for low pay to find out why there are so many angry people in America. What is interesting to observe, as you read this book, is what happens to the author as she moves from job to job. Her cynicism and anger get progressively worse.

The problems of hourly workers are easy to sum up. Companies will do anything to keep wages down, so to survive, many people hold more than one job. But two jobs only provide subsistence and are no protection against unforeseen expenses. Out of pocket balloon payments occur more frequently than most people will admit. These may include a down payment on an apartment, medical or dental expenses, and the right clothing to get and maintain a job. Another major expense for the wageworker is housing. There is a definite shortage of affordable housing for those who work in hotels, restaurants, and mass retail. Thus, these workers are often forced into multiple occupancy living situations and frequent displacements occur. The problem of wages that do not rise coupled with the inflation of the cost of housing puts tremendous pressure on the hourly wage earner.

There are several major questions to keep in mind when reading this book.

  1. How can anyone on a low wage income make enough money to survive emergency expenses?
  2. How is it possible for earnings to fit housing costs when there is always someone ready to pay more for housing than the lowest wage earners?
  3. What happens to the author’s personality as she works and lives in a world where everyone is barely scraping by?