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Poverty in “Serving in Florida” and “Dumpster Diving”

Poverty and food insecurity are the issues that have been troubling American society for many years. Numerous citizens of the United States live below the poverty level and find it difficult to support themselves and their families. Some of them lack necessities such as food, housing, and health insurance and suffer from undernourishment and multiple health problems. Federal government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program among others have helped to change the tone of public discussion about the problem of poverty as well as reduce the plight of poor. I believe that the issue of economic depravity is an extremely important area of inquiry for a well-functioning society and deserves deep exploration.

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“Serving in Florida” by Barbara Ehrenreich describes the harsh reality of living in poverty while concentrating on the pragmatic dimension of the issue and shares practical lessons learned from the experience of living in a social system the main priorities of which are not familiar to Americans with high socioeconomic status. “Dumpster Diving” by Lars Eighner offers a narrative of a simplistic lifestyle of an impoverished individual who was able to discover a sense of enlightenment through the variety of experiences related to living on the streets.

Both “Serving in Florida” and “Dumpster Diving” provide a comprehensive exploration of the devastating impact of poverty on the day-to-day life of the Americans struggling to survive in harsh environments of economic depravity. Even though the two words describe different experiences, it can be argued that they are united by a common theme of rethinking life. One is concerned with the issue of reevaluating homelessness; another pushes its readers to reassess their beliefs about employment and precarious financial position. The discussion of “Serving in Florida” by Barbara Ehrenreich and “Dumpster Diving” by Lars Eighner will provide insight into the differences between two perspectives of authors who have shared similar living circumstances and lessons they have learned from their experiences.


The chapter “Serving in Florida” in the book titled Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America written by Barbara Ehrenreich offers a narrative of a voluntary experiment of living in a minimum wage environment. The writer decides to try surviving on a minimum wage while living in Florida and holding a low-end job (Ehrenreich 152). Ehrenreich tries to explore the economic difficulties experienced by the unskilled labor force in the United States daily. To this end, she makes a comparison of a middle-class life with that of those living on low wages.

The opening paragraph of the chapter suggests that the enormous social chasm between low-wage staff and management that constantly monitors workers’ behavior for “signs of sloth, theft, drug abuse, or worse” is conducive to the atmosphere of distrust (Ehrenreich 154). She also tells a reader that the experience of being a restaurant employee makes her think about managers as “the class enemy” (Ehrenreich 154).

The writer understands that staff members with various levels of authority have different motivations that depend on them serving either the corporation or the community. Even though Ehrenreich explains the egregious behavior of those who “have crossed over to the other side,” she does not justify it (154). However, it is clear from the writer’s comments about the demographic category she pretends to be a part of that that it is not easy to escape one’s own real identity. She makes an insensitive remark about being overqualified for the position and even refers to the people who are currently on the lower tiers of the socioeconomic ladder as “trailer trash” (Ehrenreich 152).

Moreover, Ehrenreich shows her dissatisfaction with the place in which locker searches and drug tests are part of the daily routine telling her reader that it reminds her of a high school environment (154). The writer finds the hardships of living a life of an unskilled laborer extremely difficult and cannot fully relate to the plight of the poor.

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Lars Eighner expands the issue of harsh economic reality in his essay “Dumpster Diving” by providing an honest account of the life of a homeless man who acquires his livelihood be searching through dumpsters. It can be argued that his view of poverty is entirely different from that of Barbara Ehrenreich. Even though both writers describe difficulties faced by impoverished people, Eighner is not terrified by his experience.

It seems that he fully embarrasses all challenges that life offers to him and uses them to find a sense of enlightenment. The writer explores various phases of the transformation of scavengers that range from initial “disgust and self-loathing” to the experienced “dumpster diver” who “has the last laugh” (Eighner 90). Eighner shows that the feeling of shame associated with the initial stage of the scavenger’s “career” comes from the sense of pride and the fear of social disapproval (Eighner 90).

The writer also compares the apathy of haves to the terrible plight of have-nots prompting the reader to reconsider their view of social stratification. It seems that by condemning the wasteful nature of the American way of life he shows that materialistic values are harmful and breed much more than waste. The writer exemplifies this particular view by saying that “students throw out many good things” and goes on to say that “carelessness, ignorance, and wastefulness” are the reason for indiscriminate purchasing behavior (Eighner 92).

It is particularly interesting to realize that even though Eighner lives in much worse circumstances than Ehrenreich, he, nonetheless, manages to remain optimistic about his experience. The writer tells the story with a hefty portion of humor that makes the life of scavenger seem more bearable. Moreover, while experiencing extreme economic difficulties and not having the basic wherewithal for survival he calls the rest of society lost and unsure which is extremely unusual considering his awful circumstances (Eighner 92).

Both Eighner and Ehrenreich are transformed by their experiences. However, they come to completely different conclusions about the reality of life in poverty. It seems that Ehrenreich’s wrote her essay more aggressively than Eighner did. Moreover, Eighner claims that poverty makes one stronger suggesting that experience of scavenging was beneficial for him. Ehrenreich, on the other hand, clearly despised poverty and seemed more than eager to return to her a middle-class life. The writer concedes that the experience of living as an unskilled laborer taught her a lesson; however, it has nothing to do with spiritual growth and is related to the economic dimension of being a poor person (Ehrenreich 156). Unlike Eighner, she believes that working multiple jobs and struggling to survive is a negative experience in all respects.


The issue of economic depravity is an extremely important area of inquiry for a well-functioning society and deserves deep exploration. Both “Serving in Florida” and “Dumpster Diving” provide a comprehensive narrative of the devastating impact of poverty on the day-to-day life of the Americans struggling to survive in harsh environments of abject poverty. I believe that even though Ehrenreich’s account of economic difficulties faced by unskilled labor force in the United States is more cynical and less optimistic than the story described in “Dumpster Diving,” it is, nonetheless, serves as an honest assessment of the daily experiences of straggling poor.

I think that to reduce the plight of poverty, our society has to better understand the woes of the people with a low socioeconomic status. “Serving in Florida” can help to illuminate this aspect of life for the readers who do not have a sufficient understanding of the economics of poverty. Even though the description of socioeconomic categorization of the homeless population, as well as practical lessons for scroungers, are not so familiar to an average reader as a minimum wage environment, it is clear that differentiation between classes is known by everyone. Therefore, it is safe to assume that “Dumpster Diving” provides a powerful lesson on poverty and its implications for American society.

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Both essays expose readers to others’ poverty closing for them the gigantic economic chasm between having and have-nots. Even though “Serving in Florida” and “Dumpster Diving” have a rather numbing effect on the reader, they teach compassion for the people with a low socioeconomic status thereby helping to understand their struggle. I believe that it is much easier to reduce the plight of poor people after having a better understanding of their struggles and woes.

Works Cited

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001. Print.

Eighner, Lars. “On Dumpster Diving.” New England Journal of Public Policy 8.1 (1992): 87-95. Print.

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