“The American Dream” And The Dreams Of Low Wage Workers Essay Sample
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“The American Dream” is the basis of life for the citizens of USA, as it promises them a life of comfort, liberty and self-satisfaction. However, there is an aspect of this dream which is not as appealing for some as it is for others. While America has been responsible for the success of millions of careers and provides opportunities, the low wage workers which are at the bottom of the success pyramid continue to strive and suffer with deplorable working conditions. These low wage workers have rights and liberties however the success which “The American Dream” does not have the same prospect for them as it does for highly paid workers and it takes them quite a lot of struggle to steady their lives. This paper does not aim to highlight the fact that low wage workers are deprived of “The American Dream”, it basically aims at providing a deeper insight into their trouble and struggle.
American citizens thrive on the idea of “The American Dream” mostly due to the fact that that it promises fulfilling prospects of life to them. For other countries of the world, it is the model on which they wish to run their state of affairs. However, just like any other institution it has its weaknesses too. Due to the rising inflation low wage workers have to struggle to support their families despite various bills which are passed to “provide relief” to them. There are various misconceptions about low wage jobs which also prove to be one of the foremost issues that low wage workers have to face. Weather conditions are another issue that these workers have to face unlike those individuals who work steady, highly paid jobs.
Firstly, the struggles of the low wage workers will be discussed in order to understand the argument of this paper. There is a common misconception in society that low wage workers are not highly skilled which is why they have to resort to “menial” labor. However this is not true at all. In her book The Betrayal of Work: How Low-Wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans and Their Families, published in 2003 Beth Shulman narrates the story of Cynthia Porter who is a certified nursing assistant. Despite being highly trained, she has to struggle in order to provide sustenance for herself and her family. Cynthia’s work is not pleasant as she has to check her patients’ beds and bed pans on every shift and even clean them, she has to walk at times twenty five miles in order to reach her workplace and at times she has to work extra shifts due to the fact that there are not enough people at the nursing home to provide for patients. Despite all these troubles and struggles, Cynthia is not able to provide for her family as she wishes she could, earning a total of $350 every two weeks (Shulman).
Cynthia’s example is not provided to prove that she is being cheated out of the prospects of a better future. It is provided in order to emphasize on the fact that low wage workers struggle in order to sustain themselves and continue to pursue “The American Dream” despite it. Beth Shulman refers to The Other America published in 1960 by Michael Harrington and says that times have changed very much from that era. Michael Harrington highlighted the days when there was poverty which was ignored by the upper class. In today’s day and age, those who are below the poverty line constitute to the first block of the success pyramid of the economy. These workers provide the basis of all things that America consumes but never become the consumers themselves.
It is even medically proven that an activity that is continued for a long period of time can sustain injury to a person not only physical but also emotional. In her book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) getting by in America published in 2001 Barbara Ehrenreich states that low wage workers often have to undergo mental trauma as well as physical trauma (Ehrenreich). The stress of continuous drug tests, questionnaires and forms about employees are no doubt aimed in the interest of employees as well as employers, however she says that constant surveillance leads to stress on individuals. She also says that due to the fact that workers often have to work through their pains and health problems because they simply cannot afford to miss a day of work or worse lose their jobs. Some people have to work two jobs in order to make ends meet which is added stress on their minds and body.
This forces us to think critically as well as emotionally as to how low wage workers are not able to achieve the “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” as promised by the Declaration of Independence. The right to life indicates a life that is healthy and sound, not one which is plagued by aches and pain from having to bear the burden of supporting oneself. Sustenance for any individual should not have to come at the cost of their health being compromised. Yet, those who contribute to the major sustenance of America’s population have to suffer in silence. These people are not able to afford health insurance which is one of the most basic requirements and rights of any individual. Any injury or illness that they might contract becomes an added “hassle” to these people as they do not have the means to take care of it sufficiently.
It also makes one wonder about the liberty which is promise to individuals in light of “The American Dream”. Being continuously answerable to someone and having to undergo physical and mental trauma in no way suggests the liberty of freedom. These are individuals who might have bigger aspirations for their life but due to their financial conditions they can never pursue their dreams and have to settle for being the step ladder to other people’s dreams. These people are deprived of their right to dream because of their class difference. This emphasizes on the fact that “The American Dream” is not necessarily the dream of a low wage worker. For them sustenance and making it through one day at a time might be the dream which slowly kills all prospects of achieving “The American Dream”.
The lack of ability to afford housing and basic utilities is another issue that these individuals have to face. Due to the fact that they do not earn enough to cover their expenses, these people have to live in substandard living conditions and compromise on basic utilities because sometimes they are simply not able to afford them. Many people argue that government provides welfare and relief for those who are in need. However, they fail to realize the fact that even though welfare is given out, it amounts to being non-existent in light of the inflation that is always on the rise. These people cannot afford houses and sometimes spend a lifetime wishing to save enough money to afford one and are never able to do so.
Access to education is another struggle that proves to be a hindrance in their journey towards a better future. Many of these low wage workers have children which wish to pursue college education and are academically inclined. However, they are simply not able to take out money from each paycheck to build an education fund for their children. It is true however that many success stories rise from rags to riches in which young individuals have been able to get scholarships, gain an education and become successful in life. However, there is a wide population of those as well who are not able to do so and have to settle for spending their lives in regret, pursuing careers which they did not dream of.
Apart from the issues discussed above, there are various social issues which these people have to face in the struggle for sustenance. There is a very large biased towards these individuals mostly due to the fact that they are considered to be “lowly” and “incompetent”. People often fail to realize the skill sets of these people and hence marginalize them thinking that they are not good enough to socialized with. There are various stereotypes which these people have to face at the hands of their employers often as well as mentioned above. They are often regarded suspiciously as thieves and substance abusers which makes it hard for them to maintain job stability.
“When someone works for less pay than she can live on, she has made a great sacrifice for you. The "working poor” are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone.” (Ehrenreich).
Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel And Dimed. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001. Print.
Lowwagework.org,. 'Facts About Low Wage Work'. N.p., 2015. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.
Shulman, Beth. The Betrayal Of Work. New York: New Press, 2003. Print.
Gyourko, Joseph, and Peter Linneman. "The affordability of the American dream: An examination of the last 30 years." Journal of Housing Research 4.1 (1993): 39-72.
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