Cover image for Bait and switch the (futile) pursuit of the American dream
Title:
Bait and switch the (futile) pursuit of the American dream
ISBN:
9780792737476
Publication Information:
Hampton, NH : Sound Library/BBC Audiobooks America, p2005.
Physical Description:
6 sound discs (ca. 6 hr., 51 min.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
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Compact disc.

Unabridged

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Summary:
Focuses on the world of white-collar unemployment as seen through the eyes of the unemployed, describing the woes of "surplus" employees who are forced to confront the realities of financial hardship with few social supports or security.
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Summary

Summary

Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed explored the lives of low-wage workers. Now, in Bait and Switch, she enters another hidden realm of the economy-the world of the white-collar unemployed. Armed with a plausible resume of a professional "in transition," she attempts to land a "middle class job" undergoing career coaching and personality testing. She is proselytized, scammed, lectured, and, again and again, rejected. Bait and Switch highlights the people who've done everything right-earned college degrees, developed marketable skills, and built up impressive resumes-yet have become repeatedly vulnerable to financial disaster. Like the now classic Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch is alternately hilarious and tragic, a searing expose of economic cruelty where we least expect it.


Author Notes

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of "Blood Rites"; "The Worst Years of Our Lives"; "Fear of Falling", which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, & eight other books. A frequent contributor to Time, Harper's, Esquire, The New Republic, Mirabella, The Nation, The New York Magazine, she lives near Key West, Florida.

(Publisher Fact Sheets) Political activist and writer Barbara Ehrenreich was born in Butte, Montana on August 26, 1941. She studied physics at Reed College and graduated in 1963. She received a Ph.D. in Cell Biology from Rockefeller University in 1968. Rather than pursuing a career in science, however, she decided to focus on social change.

Ehrenreich has written columns and contributed articles to publications including Time Magazine, The Progressive, The New York Times, Mother Jones, The Atlantic Monthly, Ms, The New Republic, Harper's Magazine, and The Nation. She taught essay writing at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley in 1998 and 2000.

Ehrenreich has written many books, with 2001's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America and 2005's Bait and Switch, The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream both becoming New York Times bestsellers. Nickel and Dimed examines working-class poverty, while Bait and Switch discusses white-collar unemployment. Her next bestseller was in 2014 with Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything.

In 1998 Ehrenreich was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association, and she received the Nation Institute/Puffin Foundation Prize for Creative Citizenship in 2004.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

A wild bestseller in the field of poverty writing, Ehrenreich's 2001 expos? of working-class hardship, Nickel and Dimed, sold over a million copies in hardcover and paper. If even half that number of people buy this follow-up, which purports "to do for America's ailing middle class what [Nickel and Dimed] did for the working poor," it too will shoot up the bestseller lists. But PW suspects that many of those buyers will be disappointed. Ehrenreich can't deliver the promised story because she never managed to get employed in the "midlevel corporate world" she wanted to analyze. Instead, the book mixes detailed descriptions of her job search with indignant asides about the "relentlessly cheerful" attitude favored by white-collar managers. The tone throughout is classic Ehrenreich: passionate, sarcastic, self-righteous and funny. Everywhere she goes she plots a revolution. A swift read, the book does contain many trenchant observations about the parasitic "transition industry," which aims to separate the recently fired from their few remaining dollars. And her chapter on faith-based networking is revelatory and disturbing. But Ehrenreich's central story fails to generate much sympathy-is it really so terrible that a dabbling journalist can't fake her way into an industry where she has no previous experience?-and the profiles of her fellow searchers are too insubstantial to fill the gap. Ehrenreich rightly points out how corporate culture's focus on "the power of the individual will" deters its employees from organizing against the market trends that are disenfranchising them, but her presentation of such arguments would have been a lot more convincing if she could have spent some time in a cubicle herself. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Booklist Review

What to expect from a journalist and author as profiled as Ehrenreich (because of the publicity garnered from Nickel and Dimed,0 2001), who now tackles the issue of the unemployed white\b -\b0 collar worker? Laughter and well--meaning self-deprecating humor, that's what. More importantly, she offers a realistic, sometimes despairing perspective on the corporate world and a job hunter's travails. The statistics are revealing: 20 percent of the unemployed today are professionals. Ehrenreich's own story involves a 10-month job search with $5,000 in funds under her maiden name. She endured so-called coaches, networking events, Web sites, even job fairs in the hunt for employment, taking a barrage of personality tests (Myers Briggs, Enneagram) and often suffering fools gladly. The result was two sales-position offers without benefits or salary. Her conclusions are harsh, perhaps atypical for many, yet she tempers the realities with clear-cut recommendations for change. Anticipate a waiting list for this title. --Barbara Jacobs Copyright 2005 Booklist


Choice Review

In Nickel and Dimed (2001), social critic Ehrenreich demonstrated that if someone sets out with an implicit goal of failing at blue-collar jobs, that person can succeed and then make several hundred thousand dollars writing about it. With Bait and Switch, she switches to corporate white-collar employment and, armed with fake credentials and relying on inefficient job-search strategies, strikes out again. The only sector left to exploit in this fashion is the public arena, which may be even easier because markets tend to spot and expose such ploys quicker. Bait focuses on Ehrenreich's yearlong odyssey to hone a resume, use career coaches and networks (she includes a gratuitous slap at Christian groups), attend job fairs, interview, and ultimately land some unattractive offers. Her anecdotes, quotes from people she encountered along the way, and occasional factoids are hardly representative of US labor markets--or even accurate--for college-trained employees and employers in the US. Her real goal here is increased unemployment benefits and health care for all. Those predisposed to agree with Ehrenreich, Michael Moore, and Morgan Spurlock will certainly want to pick up Bait; and it will certainly be widely read and talked about. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers. A. R. Sanderson University of Chicago


Guardian Review

How extraordinarily misleading economic statistics can be. Talk of "average" earnings or "per capita" wealth is virtually meaningless as a true description of a nation: if Bill Gates moved to Albania it would soar up the league tables without a single Albanian being a penny better off. This mendacity has never been more grotesque than in the US right now. The myth of America the thriving, booming, prospering envy of the world is most chillingly exposed in the writings of Barbara Ehrenreich. How she strips away the varnish to reveal the lives of the slaves toiling beneath the surface to prop up a curiously hollowed-out empire. In her most celebrated book, Nickel and Dimed , she took jobs among minimum wage workers, living in a caravan and a motel, failing to survive on $7 an hour. It left the British reader aghast at a far more brutal capitalism, redder in tooth and claw with no safety nets, no health care, no social security. Only charity food parcels stave off starvation for people doing America's essential work, sometimes two or three jobs at once in the richest nation the world has ever known. Now, Ehrenreich turns her razor-sharp reporting skills on the corporate world. She sets out with suit and briefcase to join business America, the offices of middle management to which most graduates aspire. Unfortunately she doesn't make the grade in the white collar world. As a reporter, this might have been a failed enterprise, a dead story. After all, she is not a good prospect. She is in her 50s, has never worked in business before and aspires to become a PR in the pharmaceutical sector. Even with a good deal of lying and friends to proffer references, frankly, it looks from the start like a doomed enterprise. By the end she concludes the only way she will get near the management suites is pushing a catering trolley. But Ehrenreich is the kind of reporter who could be put down just about anywhere and always come up with revelations and perceptions of the society around her, its people, their hopes and fears. So as she surfs the job boards on the net, rewrites her CV over and over, networks her way to follow every improbable lead towards the chance of a job, she finds herself down among the many fallers from corporate America. It is not just those who start out poor and uneducated who are destined to plunge into the abyss: it could be almost anyone. Downsizing after mergers, the arrival of a new manager or the constant cult of cuts keep managers on their toes. If they are "let go" and don't find another job fast, many, maybe most, are doomed to tumble down the social ladder. She meets them at expensive and futile networking conferences and motivational job search events. But a gap on a resume - never called unemployed but "in transition" or "consulting" - is CV death. Most job applications receive no acknowledgment. From outside the office citadels become increasingly impregnable. Once hot personal contacts go cold, these fallers have no chance. But America the entrepreneurial has spotted a market here. These desperate people are preyed on by a whole industry of obnoxious (and themselves pretty desperate) career-coaches, "professional mentors" and trainers offering excruciating pop-psychology: reinvent yourself; smile. The psycho-babble of business spills into a kind of bullying, yet these frantic job-seekers shell out a fortune to receive it: it's their fault, their future is in their hands, there is nothing wrong the system, the only failings are all their own. Tragically, most sink into exactly the despair the career coaches say makes them unemployable. Many end up taking minimum wage jobs. Europe could do that tomorrow, if we abandoned social security to starve people into sub-subsistence jobs. The American dream is so powerful that even those living the nightmare still believe it. Ehrenreich often uncovers this depressing phenomenon in her rich portfolio of reporting America. She picks away at a brain-washed multitude clinging to a false idol. Without political leadership to suggest that the dream is all but dead and aspirational social mobility stuck in cement, the millions at the sharp end ignore the evidence of their own experience to believe still that anyone can make it. Those who don't are just failures. Only Ehrenreich's acid wit and caustic political intelligence makes this an enjoyable as well as a horrible read. But if you are in the mood for dark humourless mirth, then Rich Britain makes a good accompaniment. Stewart Lansley charts the progress of inequality at the top. The super rich are a new phenomenon whose fortunes took off in the 1980s and kept soaring. The late 70s were the most equal period Britain has ever known, a time when the onward march of social progress and fairer shares was taught in every classroom as if it were historical inevitability, from factory acts and boys up chimneys to universal education and health. What went wrong? This is a journalistic book, with more cuttings than original research, but it does the business. Well written and well analysed, it revolts and disgusts with tales of squalid greed at the top. All the statistics and the hard facts are there - how it happened, why it happened and how we are destined, unless someone stops it, to watch the pigs in the farmhouse continue to wallow in excess beyond the dreams of a Nero. The stratosphere of the boardrooms, where the likes of Lord Browne of BP now earn pounds 6.5m a year, has moved as far from the life of the average citizen as the addict in a blanket under Waterloo bridge. They no longer inhabit the same planet as the rest of us, hermetically sealed in smoke-windowed limo, private jet, private island, private everything. Yet they are more driven by the politics of envy than any mere socialist. They are driven on and on by that gross desire to be top dog, with top dollar, bigger bonuses than the boardroom next door, fatter jet and more richly bejewelled arm candy. Read this, keep it, store up some of its more pungent statistics and keep asking Labour what it's there for, if never to say enough is enough? Polly Toynbee's Hard Work is published by Bloomsbury. To order Bait and Switch for pounds 9.99 or Rich Britain for pounds 16.99, both with free UK p&p, call Guardian book service on 0870 836 0875. Caption: article-elite.1 How extraordinarily misleading economic statistics can be. Talk of "average" earnings or "per capita" wealth is virtually meaningless as a true description of a nation: if Bill Gates moved to Albania it would soar up the league tables without a single Albanian being a penny better off. This mendacity has never been more grotesque than in the US right now. The myth of America the thriving, booming, prospering envy of the world is most chillingly exposed in the writings of Barbara Ehrenreich. How she strips away the varnish to reveal the lives of the slaves toiling beneath the surface to prop up a curiously hollowed-out empire. Only Ehrenreich's acid wit and caustic political intelligence makes this an enjoyable as well as a horrible read. But if you are in the mood for dark humourless mirth, then Rich Britain makes a good accompaniment. Stewart Lansley charts the progress of inequality at the top. The super rich are a new phenomenon whose fortunes took off in the 1980s and kept soaring. The late 70s were the most equal period Britain has ever known, a time when the onward march of social progress and fairer shares was taught in every classroom as if it were historical inevitability, from factory acts and boys up chimneys to universal education and health. What went wrong? The stratosphere of the boardrooms, where the likes of Lord Browne of BP now earn pounds 6.5m a year, has moved as far from the life of the average citizen as the addict in a blanket under Waterloo bridge. They no longer inhabit the same planet as the rest of us, hermetically sealed in smoke-windowed limo, private jet, private island, private everything. Yet they are more driven by the politics of envy than any mere socialist. They are driven on and on by that gross desire to be top dog, with top dollar, bigger bonuses than the boardroom next door, fatter jet and more richly bejewelled arm candy. Read this, keep it, store up some of its more pungent statistics and keep asking Labour what it's there for, if never to say enough is enough? - Polly Toynbee.


Kirkus Review

The middle class, writes Ehrenreich, is losing ground as steadily as the poor--and it has even more parasites feasting on its wounds. Poised, well-educated, but of a certain age and without a classic career trajectory, Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed, 2001) changes her name back to her natal Barbara Alexander, takes a new social security number and tries to get a job in the corporate world. Poor thing, she sets her sights high, hoping for something with a nice health plan and "an income of about $50,000 a year, enough to land me solidly in the middle class." Phase 1, deliciously detailed here, encompasses Ehrenreich/Alexander's meetings with a succession of bullshit artists who attempt to soak as much of her money as they can while fixing the commas on her résumé, helping her concoct lies about her working past and indoctrinating her in New Age nonsense that hardnosed corporate America seems to have swallowed whole. Phase 2 involves dreadful meet-and-greet networking rituals, many of them gateways to fundamentalist Christianity, another species of false hope to fuel the unemployed and underemployed. "The white-collar workforce," writes Ehrenreich, "seems to consist of two groups: those who can't find work at all and those who are employed in jobs where they work much more than they want to. In between lies a scary place where you dedicate long hours to a job that you sense is about to eject you, if only because so many colleagues have been laid off already." After months of looking and landing only pyramid-scheme offers in return, she concludes that the corporate world has sent her and her kind a clear message--anyone with a brain need not apply, and past success does not matter. What does is obedience, and the sure knowledge that one can be sacrificed at any moment. Another unsettling message about an ugly America from a trustworthy herald. Read it and weep--especially if you're a job-seeker. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

Having examined the fate of low-wage earners in Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich goes behind the scenes to investigate life for white-collar workers liberated from their jobs and struggling to find employment, meaningful or otherwise. With a national tour. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

There's all sorts of useful information being offered, which I struggle to commit to my notebook. Ask people to give you their contacts, and when they do, write them thank you notes by hand, on nice stationary. Get a fountain pen; ballpoint won't do. If you can't get a real interview, at least ask for a 20 minute "contact interview" aimed at prying contacts out of people. Write to executives who are profiled in business publications and tell them what their company needs at this stage, which is, of course, you. Tell them how you're going to "add value" to their firm. "Stand out. You've got to be the banana split." Wear a suit and tie or female equivalent at all times, even on weekends, and I pick up a warning glance here: my sneakers have been noted. Network everywhere. One fellow landed a job thanks to networking at a 7/11 on a Saturday morning; luckily he had been fully suited up at the time. Excerpted from Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream by Barbara Ehrenreich All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.