The ideals lay shattered, and values became irrelevant or became impotent, exposing the hollowness of the American Dream.
Thirty years later, Barbara Ehrenreich embarked on a similar journey of discovery, but did it herself, actually living out the life of the working poor to discover how it actually felt. Her book, “Nickel and Dimed” published in 1971 is almost a piece of investigative reporting. For three months, she actually waited on tables, cleaned hotels, and homes, and worked at Wal-Mart in Florida, Maine, and Minnesota because they were the highest paying un-skilled jobs she could find as a mother in her late 50s working for the first time, at "mothers hours." Affordable housing was a myth that forced her to live in cabins, trailer parks or weekly motels. The people behind Americas dressed up service economy had no place to go back to at night.
The degradation was appalling, with numerous drug tests and surprise purse searches. So-called personality tests were actually designed to reject assertive candidates who could be potential misfits in the organization. Organizing a union was ruled out when even talking to co-workers was a crime labeled “time theft”. “Associates”, not workers, waited on “guests”, not customers, surviving on a bag of chips divided between lunch and dinner, or cold cuts out of a grocery bag in a motel room. Social welfare agencies were of no help either, manned by compassionate but exhausted people who really had nothing material to offer.
Later, in 2006, through her book “Bait and Switch”, she explores the world of the white-collared unemployed, with college degrees, marketable skills, and impressive resumes, but equally vulnerable to financial disaster.