Searing pain shooting up the back of the leg from hours of standing; the ever constant lower backache that no amount of ibuprofen seems to cure; dizziness and fatigue from lack of food and water because the service floor is too busy for a break – these were the physicalities endured during my time working low-wage jobs as a server and a Wal-Mart associate. Reading Barbra Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America both confirmed my own observation regarding low-wage labor and also shed light on the lives some of my co-workers may have faced.
The premise of Ehrenreich’s experiment was to see if it she could survive for a month on low-wage earnings. She repeats her experiment three times in different locations within the United States – first in Key West, Florida as a waitress, then Portland, Maine working for a maid service; third in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a Wal-Mart associate.
“When I wake up at 4 A.M. in my own cold sweat, I am not thinking about the writing deadlines I’m neglecting; I’m thinking of the table where I screwed up the order and one of the kids didn’t get his kiddie meal until the rest of the family had moved on to their Key lime pies.” 
Ehrenreich’s surprise at how much she cared about the job and how much she came to care about the people she met at these jobs carries through each of her experiences. The relationships she builds with her co-workers reflect the inter-dependency that exists among the employees which I myself experienced. While working at Wal-Mart, her description of how the fitting room attendant could make life difficult for her by simply putting wrong items into her carts highlights the way a small problem can become a time consuming endeavor to fix. But there is also trust that builds between the co-workers – knowing that when you are having a particularly rough day, there is someone there to help, as the women at The Maids showed repeatedly.
“In my interview, I had been promised a thirty-minuet lunch break, but this turns out to be a five-minuet pit stop at a convenience store, if that.” 
In Ehrenreich’s time as a server, a maid, and a Wal-Mart associate, she conveys the physical and mental exhaustion that ensues within each job. Breaks become a luxury not everyone receives as the quote above suggests. While waitressing at Jerry’s, she makes clear the lack of break room and breaks for employees. In my own time as a server lunch breaks were only viable if you had no tables, often times eating habits consisted of running into the kitchen to deposit dirty dishes followed by a quick stop in the break room to grab a bit from a sandwich, promptly followed by running back out the door to deliver food, refill coffee, or other tasks that require attention. Breaks became a matter of calculation for Ehrenreich. At Wal-Mart, she struggled to determine the best way in which to use them to combat the weariness that sets in at the end of her nine-hour shifts.
Nickel and Dimed proved the extreme difficulties many American’s who work in low-wage jobs faced on a daily basis. While Ehrenreich’s experiences are a compelling at times, it is the stories of numerous individuals whom she encountered and met that truly express the realities of this working class. For Ehrenreich there was always an out after 30 days, but for her co-workers the struggle to get by never stop.
“… for servers, slow times can be as exhausting as rushes. You start dragging out each little chore because if the manager on duty catches you in an idle moment he will give you something far nastier to do.” 
 Barbra Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (NOT) Getting By In America, Kindle Edition, (New York, Henry Holt and Company: 2001), 18.
 Ibid., 76.
 Ibid., 22.