A Comparison Between "Grapes of Wrath" and "Nickel and Dimed"

After World War II, compensation has increased while discrimination, members of unions, and workers with benefits decreased. Themes of rich versus poor and corporate greed from Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich portray the low wage working class during the Great Depression and in 2001, respectively. Minimum wage jobs and its compensation, discriminations, unions, and benefits have all changed, drastically or slight, throughout the years since the Great Depression.

The Great Depression of the 1930’s started just the year before when the stock market plummeted.

By 1932, 75% of the population was living in poverty and more than one third were unemployed. The result was the working class starting strikes in various cities across the nation. The ruling class responded to this with violence, such as when the Detroit police fired at the strikers in 1932 (Smith). Shortly after the U.S. joined World War II, causing mobility of the economy.

Millions of women and men either joined the army or got well paying jobs (Library of Congress).

More than 70 years later, the Great Recession of 2008 began just the year prior with “an 8 trillion dollar housing bubble (American Data Library).” Consumer spending and business investment started to deteriorate and this resulted in major job loss. The labor market in 2008 and 2009 lost 8.4 million jobs and more than a year after the Recession ended the economy still had 5.4% fewer jobs than when the Recession started (American Data Library).

The minimum wage since the 1950’s has continued to increase from anywhere to a couple cents to a whole dollar.

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During that year, minimum wage was .75 cents compared to $10.50 we have now. With each raise of hourly salary, inflation goes up as well. So although higher pay is needed to try and get by in America, it still is not enough because the cost of living continues to increase as well. I work a minimum wage job and my shift leader (whom makes $12.75 an hour) works 30-45 hours a week and still struggles to pay rent.

Most people I know that work low wage jobs are either struggling or helping out their family financially. And all those people’s ages range from 18-25, making it really difficult for families to simply live off a low wage job. The theme of rich versus poor in Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck can be correlated to low wages workers trying to get by in America today. In the novel, banks took over farmers’ land and their property forcing them to get on the road and find a solution. This is seen all over the nation today.

Many big corporations, such as Walmart, are driving small businesses that have been around for years out of business. Big corporations are stealing all their money, hiring workers for low wage jobs because they know people need it, and treating them poorly. The rich continue to get rich while the poor stay in the same place. Just as the desperate people who raided farms to scavenge for food, many of the poor, today, scavenge for food from anywhere by asking for money or digging amongst dumpsters.

Discrimination in jobs is not only amongst race but amongst employers and businesses. With minimum wage increasing, so does the rate of unemployment because businesses seek out substitutes and measures to economize (Goldberg). Back in the 1950’s discrimination was mainly about race. The Federal Housing Administration reinforced segregation and denied loans to anyone who was not white. African Americans lost homes, the Chinese were denied citizenship and could not own property, the Japanese were forced into internment camps, and Mexicans were only offered temporary stay in the U.S. if they worked low wage jobs such as in agriculture (Goldberg).

Many of these results in the inequality we see today. Today, also, minimum wage jobs discriminates against low skilled workers, primarily those of color. In doing so, businesses higher people already trained with experience rather than a low skilled worker who has potential to sharpen their skills and eventually receive higher pay (E. Williams).

In Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, she displays a the theme of “corporate greed” that relates to discrimination. While she was working as a maid, her boss said to “look clean” rather than to actually be clean for work. When she worked at the restaurant, many of her fellow employees were dehumanized by their bosses but were forced to stay upon themselves to help and feed their families. And because so many people needed jobs, businesses were not afraid to make hourly pay low because they knew people were desperate and would stay loyal. I have seen some of these first hand and have even experienced some of it.

Although I have never stayed loyal to a job because I never paid for any expenses, I was struggling to find my first job. Lots of jobs require experience but you cannot gain experience without a job, so it was a never ending cycle. I finally landed my first job, with background experience as a volunteer cashier in a hospital gift shop, that lasted about three months before I quit because my manager hated anyone who was not her own race. A year later I finally gained enough experience for multiple jobs to inquire about interviews and training.

The main goals of labor unions are to improve wages, working conditions, and benefits. At the end of World War II, strikes began and Congress feared that they were becoming too powerful so they passed the Taft-Hartley Act. This restricts the activities and power of labor unions. In 1983 about 20.1% of workers were apart of a labor union, compared to the number of 13.1% today.. In the 1990’s to present, many small unions joined larger ones is hopes to gain financial and organizational resources (Steinhoff).

Benefits, such as healthcare and pension, have also continued to go down. Many low wage jobs do not offer these benefits, and if they do workers do not make enough to contribute anything to receive help. Many low wage workers are already struggling financially and an added on factor of not receiving many benefits makes it even harder.

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A Comparison Between "Grapes of Wrath" and "Nickel and Dimed". (2023, May 05). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/a-comparison-between-grapes-of-wrath-and-nickel-and-dimed/

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