Me, $25, and the search for the American dream, by Adam Shepard.
So this isn’t my usual entry. I felt, after reading Nickeled and Dimed that I had to give the other side a fair shake.
This book was written in response to another book that I read, and wrote about here, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. Adam set out to tell his experience about entering a city with nothing but $25 and the clothes on his back. His goal was, after a year, to have a furnished apartment, a car, and $2500 in a savings account. He also decided he wouldn’t rely on previous contacts, his college degree, or any services that weren’t available to others.
In the end, his experiment ended after only 10 months, due to the fact that his mother became ill and he wanted to return home. But, he surpassed his goal by returning home with almost $5000 in savings and a new found insight into trying to make it with absolutely nothing.
Throughout the book, Shepard argues (mildly) that Nickeled and Dimed was flawed in its research but also admits that his story is just that, his story. He doesn’t try to back it up with any statistics or research beyond what he experienced. Shepard explains his theory that raising the minimum wage doesn’t help the lower class (and may, in fact, hurt them) and believes that immigration and outsourcing aren’t the downfall of the American way.
While I found this book interesting and engaging, I think, if anything, it highlights how people in the lower socioeconomic bracket are hindered and put in a position where they are often unable to pull them selves into a better situation.
For starters, Shepard is a seemingly good-looking young man. He is also unencumbered by children, something that a lot of women in the same situation aren’t so lucky to be without (NOT that I’m suggesting that he is lucky to not have kids, I’m saying that if you have to start your life with nothing but $25 and the clothes on your back, it’s best to do it without children).
Shepard also has the ability to get jobs that involve physical labor and, thus, tend to pay more. He successfully gets his best job when he waits in a moving company’s office and gives an inspiring speech to the owner in order to get hired. I don’t think that many women, especially women with children, would be able to make it as a mover.
While he does break his toe and is out of work for a couple of weeks and suffers from food poisoning or the flu, he manages to keep his job and suffer through the lack of money. Again, there are a couple of flaws with this compared to Barbara Ehrenreich’s situation. First, because he has a job that not everyone can do, his employer holds his job and even lets him work around the office before he’s allowed to start lifting furniture again. Most jobs that women end up getting (waitressing, house cleaning) don’t need to hold a spot because there are several people ready to step in and take the injured/ill person’s place. And even if they might have had an understanding boss who might take sympathy on someone who themselves is sick, I wonder how many bosses would be sympathetic when it’s the employee’s kid who is sick.
Also, Shepard, while he did have a roommate to help make ends meet, was creating a future with JUST him in mind. How much more difficult would it have been for him to get a job and cover child care costs? Impossible. He spent three months in a homeless shelter, something that a women with a child or two, might not be able to do.
I do think that it is a very interesting and exciting thing for Shepard to have experienced. I’m sure that both the project and subsequent book won’t be hurting his chances of success. The one thing I cannot help but wonder about is Shep’s attitude vs. the attitude of the women in Ehrenreich’s book. Most of the women who find themselves in Shep’s position (or rather their own position at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder) are there because of divorce–often from abusive husbands. I wonder if they had the confidence that Shep had, that they might have been able to pull themselves up from the homeless shelter that they found themselves in.