Monday, March 09, 2009

Scratch Beginnings Shows the Continuing Power of Hard Work

Adam Shepard read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed in college. As an experiment, she tried to live on minimum wage, and found it nearly impossible to feed, clothe, and, especially, house herself on minimum wage. Shepard wondered if it would really be so hard to work up from nothing, if you were disciplined and not self-destructive. Putting his money where his mouth was, he took the clothes on his back and $25 to Charleston (chosen at random). He tells his story in Scratch Beginnings.

He found a homeless shelter the first night. He took every job he could find. He managed his money very carefully. He didn't smoke, drink, or buy lottery tickets - the specific ways his sheltermates wasted their little extra money.

Most importantly, he learned that he was never going to get a regular job by filling out want ads when he lived at a homeless shelter. Instead, he took himself to an employer who caught his eye - a moving company, but it could have been any of dozens of blue collar jobs - and made a determined pitch that he was a hard worker who could be relied on. They took a chance on him. He wasn't a great mover, but he learned. He worked civilly with the other movers, especially the good ones. And he just kept showing up reliably, taking harder jobs as they were offered.

Shepard gave himself one year to have himself housed with next month's rent ready (Ehrenreich's standard) plus have a working vehicle and $2,500 in the bank. Through hard work and diligence, he met those goals within 8 months. He also made friends, and learned to respect the guys at the bottom who kept working honestly.

Adam Shepard gives a good answer to Barbara Ehrenreich's main claim that the bottom rung jobs are not enough to sustain a worker.


Anonymous said...

Was "Nickel and Dimed" flawed in the beginning because the experiment was done by a woman? I can hardly imagine any woman, no matter how hardworking, being offered a job with a moving company. I'd guess there are many, many more available "no-collar" jobs, in a wider variety of fields, available to men than women, especially since men could just as easily wash dishes or clean hotel rooms, but women cannot as easily work construction or similar.

Not to mention the Christian Science Monitor's interview with this guy. In theory I respect his "experiment" and its results, but I don't understand how he could emerge from such a unique, educational experience with flippant racism intact:

[CSM:] Would your project have changed if you'd had child-care payments or been required to report to a probation officer? Wouldn't that have made it much harder?

[Adam:] The question isn't whether I would have been able to succeed. I think it's the attitude that I take in: "I've got child care. I've got a probation officer. I've got all these bills. Now what am I going to do? Am I going to continue to go out to eat and put rims on my Cadillac?"

Anonymous said...

Who is this Adam Shepherd person? I can't seem to find any information about him.

Is he college educated and/or of above average intelligence? Raised by someone who knew how to manage money? Knew that this was only temporary and could fall back on something/someone else if it didn't work out? Most of the people who are actually living life like this have none of these advantages.

I can imagine that this works out much better as a "project" than it does for people who have spent their whole lives living a subsistence lifestyle and see no way out. Not that people can't work their way out - they can, but it isn't just that easy.

OK. Since I wrote the above, I read the Christian Science Monitor article and see that he does, indeed, have every one of the advantages I mentioned and then some. So many advantages, especially being smart and educated, are gifts/privileges that you can't simply do away with by pretending they don't exist for an experiment.

nick.carraway said...
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nick.carraway said...
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nick.carraway said...

It's easier to coherently convince someone of your reliability and work ethic with above a 7th grade vocabulary. A place that many low income citizens unfortunately never reach; even those who graduate from high school.

There has to be a ying to every yang, a Hannity to your M. Moore. So, there is a place for the Adams to your Ehrenreich. But, this will be an inflamatory piece for those who don't understand the cycle of poverty. An outlier with MANY unspoken variables for those who choose to ignore the statistical mean.

Jon said...

And don't get sick without insurance...

Adam Copeland said...

Your first sentence says it all, "Adam Shepherd read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed in college." Hard work, perhaps, mitigating factors, surely.

libby said...

hey Jon,
People who get sick without insurance get care at hospitals.
Women work at moving companies. I hope that wasn't a sexist statement.

Jon said...

They get help at hospitals, but they have trouble getting there, must wait for hours to be treated, and receive only emergency care, not all of the preventative care and medications they need. (I haven't seen a picture of the author, but I bet he has nice teeth.) And the problem with a lot of people is they make one trip to the ER and they end up with a bill for thousands, which must be paid off after years. If you look at the stats on bankruptcy, illness makes a huge difference.

Gruntled said...

I think we need universal health insurance. It is the single policy change that would do the most to make hard work more sufficient to success.

Jon said...

Thanks Gruntled. My brother worked at UPS in college and remembers one of his coworkers (an immigrant) hurt his leg and was followed. (It reminded me of the Jungle.) Many of the people in "Nickel and Dimed" who struggled had repetitive motion injuries and couldn't handle the type of work done in Scratch Beginnings. Thanks for the series and I hope your own surgery goes well.