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:
9780805081244
Publication Information:
New York : Henry Holt and Co., 2006, c2005.
Physical Description:
248 p. ; 21 cm.
General Note:
"An Owl book."
Summary:
The New York Times bestselling investigation into white-collar unemployment from "our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism"-The New York Times Book Review Americans' working lives are growing more precarious every day. Corporations slash employees by the thousands, and the benefits and pensions once guaranteed by "middle-class" jobs are a thing of the past. In Bait and Switch , Barbara Ehrenreich goes back undercover to explore another hidden realm of the economy: the shadowy world of the white-collar unemployed. Armed with the plausible résumé of a professional "in transition," she attempts to land a "middle-class" job. She submits to career coaching, personality testing, and EST-like boot camps, and attends job fairs, networking events, and evangelical job-search ministries. She is proselytized, scammed, lectured, and-again and again-rejected. Bait and Switch highlights the people who have done everything right-gotten college degrees, developed marketable skills, and built up impressive résumés-yet have become repeatedly vulnerable to financial disaster. There are few social supports for these newly disposable workers, Ehrenreich discovers, and little security even for those who have jobs. Worst of all, there is no honest reckoning with the inevitable consequences of the harsh new economy; rather, the jobless are persuaded that they have only themselves to blame. Alternately hilarious and tragic, Bait and Switch , like the classic Nickel and Dimed , is a searing exposé of the cruel new reality in which we all now live.
Holds:

Available:*

Library
Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Copies
Status
Searching...
Book 650.14086 EHR 1 1
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

The New York Times bestselling investigation into white-collar unemployment from "our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism"--The New York Times Book Review

Americans' working lives are growing more precarious every day. Corporations slash employees by the thousands, and the benefits and pensions once guaranteed by "middle-class" jobs are a thing of the past.

In Bait and Switch , Barbara Ehrenreich goes back undercover to explore another hidden realm of the economy: the shadowy world of the white-collar unemployed. Armed with the plausible résumé of a professional "in transition," she attempts to land a "middle-class" job. She submits to career coaching, personality testing, and EST-like boot camps, and attends job fairs, networking events, and evangelical job-search ministries. She is proselytized, scammed, lectured, and--again and again--rejected.

Bait and Switch highlights the people who have done everything right--gotten college degrees, developed marketable skills, and built up impressive résumés--yet have become repeatedly vulnerable to financial disaster. There are few social supports for these newly disposable workers, Ehrenreich discovers, and little security even for those who have jobs. Worst of all, there is no honest reckoning with the inevitable consequences of the harsh new economy; rather, the jobless are persuaded that they have only themselves to blame.

Alternately hilarious and tragic, Bait and Switch , like the classic Nickel and Dimed , is a searing exposé of the cruel new reality in which we all now live.


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

Introduction Because I've written a lot about poverty, I'm used to hearing from people in scary circumstances. An eviction notice has arrived. A child has been diagnosed with a serious illness and the health insurance has run out. The car has broken down and there's no way to get to work. These are the routine emergencies that plague the chronically poor. But it struck me, starting in about 2002, that many such tales of hardship were coming from people who were once members in good standing of the middle class--college graduates and former occupants of midlevel white-collar positions. One such writer upbraided me for what she saw as my neglect of hardworking, virtuous people like herself. Try investigating people like me who didn't have babies in high school, who made good grades, who work hard and don't kiss a lot of ass and instead of getting promoted or paid fairly must regress to working for $7/hr., having their student loans in perpetual deferment, living at home with their parents, and generally exist in debt which they feel they may never get out of. Stories of white-collar downward mobility cannot be brushed off as easily as accounts of blue-collar economic woes, which the hard-hearted traditionally blame on "bad choices": failing to get a college degree, for example, failing to postpone childbearing until acquiring a nest egg, or failing to choose affluent parents in the first place. But distressed white-collar people cannot be accused of fecklessness of any kind; they are the ones who "did everything right." They earned higher degrees, often setting aside their youthful passion for philosophy or music to suffer through dull practical majors like management or finance. In some cases, they were high achievers who ran into trouble precisely because they had risen far enough in the company for their salaries to look like a tempting cost cut. They were the losers, in other words, in a classic game of bait and switch. And while blue-collar poverty has become numbingly routine, white-collar unemployment--and the poverty that often results--remains a rude finger in the face of the American dream. I realized that I knew very little about the mid- to upper levels of the corporate world, having so far encountered this world almost entirely through its low-wage, entry-level representatives. I was one of them--a server in a national chain restaurant, a cleaning person, and a Wal-Mart "associate"--in the course of researching an earlier book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Like everyone else, I've also encountered the corporate world as a consumer, dealing with people quite far down in the occupational hierarchy--retail clerks, customer service representatives, telemarketers. Of the levels where decisions are made--where the vice presidents, account executives, and regional managers dwell--my experience has been limited to seeing these sorts of people on airplanes, where they study books on "leadership," fiddle with spreadsheets on their laptops, or fall asleep over biographies of the founding fathers.1 I'm better acquainted with the corporate functionaries of the future, many of whom I've met on my visits to college campuses, where "business" remains the most popular major, if only because it is believed to be the safest and most lucrative.2 But there have been growing signs of trouble--if not outright misery--within the white-collar corporate workforce. First, starting with the economic downturn of 2001, there has been a rise in unemployment among highly credentialed and experienced people. In late 2003, when I started this project, unemployment was running at about 5.9 percent, but in contrast to earlier economic downturns, a sizable portion--almost 20 percent, or about 1.6 million--of the unemployed were white-collar professionals.3 Previous downturns had disproportionately hit blue-collar people; this time it was the relative elite of professional, technical, and managerial employees who were being singled out for media sympathy. In April 2003, for example, the New York Times Magazine offered a much-discussed cover story about a former $300,000-a-year computer industry executive reduced, after two years of unemployment, to working as a sales associate at the Gap.4 Throughout the first four years of the 2000s, there were similar stories of the mighty or the mere midlevel brought low, ejected from their office suites and forced to serve behind the counter at Starbucks. Today, white-collar job insecurity is no longer a function of the business cycle--rising as the stock market falls and declining again when the numbers improve.5 Nor is it confined to a few volatile sectors like telecommunications or technology, or a few regions of the country like the rust belt or Silicon Valley. The economy may be looking up, the company may be raking in cash, and still the layoffs continue, like a perverse form of natural selection, weeding out the talented and successful as well as the mediocre. Since the midnineties, this perpetual winnowing process has been institutionalized under various euphemisms such as "downsizing," "right-sizing," "smart-sizing," "restructuring," and "de-layering"--to which we can now add the outsourcing of white-collar functions to cheaper labor markets overseas. In the metaphor of the best-selling business book of the first few years of the twenty-first century, the "cheese"--meaning a stable, rewarding, job--has indeed been moved. A 2004 survey of executives found 95 percent expecting to move on, voluntarily or otherwise, from their current jobs, and 68 percent concerned about unexpected firings and layoffs.6 You don't, in other words, have to lose a job to feel the anxiety and despair of the unemployed. A second sign of trouble could be called "overemployment." I knew, from my reading, that mid- and high-level corporate executives and professionals today often face the same punishing demands on their time as low-paid wage earners who must work two jobs in order to make ends meet. Economist Juliet Schor, who wrote The Overworked American, and business journalist Jill Andresky Fraser, author of White Collar Sweatshop, describe stressed-out white-collar employees who put in ten- to twelve-hour-long days at the office, continue to work on their laptops in the evening at home, and remain tethered to the office by cell phone even on vacations and holidays. "On Wall Street, for example," Fraser reports, "it is common for a supervisor to instruct new hires to keep a spare set of clothes and toothbrush in the office for all those late night episodes when it just won't make sense to head home for a quick snooze."7 She quotes an Intel employee: If you make the choice to have a home life, you will be ranked and rated at the bottom. I was willing to work the endless hours, come in on weekends, travel to the ends of the earth. I had no hobbies, no outside interests. If I wasn't involved with the company, I wasn't anything.8 Something, evidently, is going seriously wrong within a socioeconomic group I had indeed neglected as too comfortable and too powerful to merit my concern. Where I had imagined comfort, there is now growing distress, and I determined to investigate. I chose the same strategy I had employed in Nickel and Dimed: to enter this new world myself, as an undercover reporter, and see what I could learn about the problems firsthand. Were people being driven out of their corporate jobs? What did it take to find a new one? And, if things were as bad as some reports suggested, why was there so little protest? The plan was straightforward enough: to find a job, a "good" job, which I defined minimally as a white-collar position that would provide health insurance and an income of about $50,000 a year, enough to land me solidly in the middle class. The job itself would give me a rare firsthand glimpse into the midlevel corporate world, and the effort to find it would of course place me among the most hard-pressed white-collar corporate workers--the ones who don't have jobs. Since I wanted to do this as anonymously as possible, certain areas of endeavor had to be excluded, such as higher education, publishing (magazines, newspapers, and books), and nonprofit liberal organizations. In any of these, I would have run the risk of being recognized and perhaps treated differently--more favorably, one hopes--than the average job seeker. But these restrictions did not significantly narrow the field, since of course most white-collar professionals work in other sectors of the for-profit, corporate world--from banking to business services, pharmaceuticals to finance. The decision to enter corporate life--and an unfamiliar sector of it, at that--required that I abandon, or at least set aside, deeply embedded attitudes and views, including my long-standing critique of American corporations and the people who lead them. I had cut my teeth, as a fledgling investigative journalist in the seventies, on the corporations that were coming to dominate the health-care system: pharmaceutical companies, hospital chains, insurance companies. Then, sometime in the eighties, I shifted my attention to the treatment of blue- and pink-collar employees, blaming America's intractable level of poverty--12.5 percent by the federal government's official count, 25 percent by more up-to-date measures--on the chronically low wages offered to nonprofessional workers. In the last few years, I seized on the wave of financial scandals--from Enron through, at the time of this writing, HealthSouth and Hollingers International--as evidence of growing corruption within the corporate world, a pattern of internal looting without regard for employees, consumers, or even, in some cases, stockholders. But for the purposes of this project, these criticisms and reservations had to be set aside or shoved as far back in my mind as possible. Like it or not, the corporation is the dominant unit of the global economy and the form of enterprise that our lives depend on in a day-to-day sense. I write this on an IBM laptop while sipping Lipton tea and wearing clothes from the Gap--all major firms or elements thereof. It's corporations that make the planes run (though not necessarily on time), bring us (and increasingly grow) our food, and generally "make it happen." I'd been on the outside of the corporate world, often complaining bitterly, and now I wanted in. This would not, I knew, be an altogether fair test of the job market, if only because I had some built-in disadvantages as a job seeker. For one thing, I am well into middle age, and since age discrimination is a recognized problem in the corporate world even at the tender age of forty, I was certainly vulnerable to it myself. This defect, however, is by no means unique to me. Many people--from displaced homemakers to downsized executives--now find themselves searching for jobs at an age that was once associated with a restful retirement. Furthermore, I had the disadvantage of never having held a white-collar job with a corporation. My one professional-level office job, which lasted for about seven months, was in the public sector, at the New York City Bureau of the Budget. It had involved such typical white-collar activities as attending meetings, digesting reports, and writing memos; but that was a long time ago, before cell phones, PowerPoint, and e-mail. In the corporate world I now sought to enter, everything would be new to me: the standards of performance, the methods of evaluation, the lines and even the modes of communication. But I'm a quick study, as you have to be in journalism, and counted on this to get me by. The first step was to acquire a new identity and personal history to go with it, meaning, in this case, a résumé. It is easier to change your identity than you might think. Go to Alavarado and Seventh Street in Los Angeles, for example, and you will be approached by men whispering, "ID, ID." I, however, took the legal route, because I wanted my documents to be entirely in order when the job offers started coming in. My fear, perhaps exaggerated, was that my current name might be recognized, or would at least turn up an embarrassing abundance of Google entries. So in November 2003 I legally changed back to my maiden name, Barbara Alexander, and acquired a Social Security card to go with it. As for the résumé: although it had to be faked, I wanted it as much as possible to represent my actual skills, which, I firmly believed, would enrich whatever company I went to work for. I am a writer--author of thousands of published articles and about twelve nonfiction books, counting the coauthored ones--and I know that "writing" translates, in the corporate world, into public relations or "communications" generally. Many journalism schools teach PR too, which may be fitting, since PR is really journalism's evil twin. Whereas a journalist seeks the truth, a PR person may be called upon to disguise it or even to advance an untruth. If your employer, a pharmaceutical company, claims its new drug cures both cancer and erectile dysfunction, your job is to promote it, not to investigate the grounds for these claims. I could do this, on a temporary basis anyway, and have even done many of the things PR people routinely do: I've written press releases, pitched stories to editors and reporters, prepared press packets, and helped arrange press conferences. As an author, I have also worked closely with my publisher's PR people and have always found them to be intelligent and in every way congenial. I have also been an activist in a variety of causes over the years, and this experience too must translate into something valuable to any firm willing to hire me. I have planned meetings and chaired them; I have worked in dozens of diverse groups and often played a leadership role in them; I am at ease as a public speaker, whether giving a lengthy speech or a brief presentation on a panel--all of which amounts to the "leadership" skills that should be an asset to any company. At the very least, I could claim to be an "event planner," capable of dividing gatherings into plenaries and break-out sessions, arranging the press coverage, and planning the follow-up events. Even as a rough draft, the résumé took days of preparation. I had to line up people willing to lie for me, should they be called by a potential employer, and attest to the fine work I had done for them. Fortunately, I have friends who were willing to do this, some of them located at recognizable companies. Although I did not dare claim actual employment at these firms, since a call to their Human Resources departments would immediately expose the lie, I felt I could safely pretend to have "consulted" to them over the years. Suffice it to say that I gave Barbara Alexander an exemplary history in public relations, sometimes with a little event planning thrown in, and that the dissimulation involved in crafting my new résumé was further preparation for any morally challenging projects I should be called upon to undertake as a PR person. I did not, however, embellish my new identity with an affect or mannerisms different from my own. I am not an actor and would not have been able to do this even if I had wanted to. "Barbara Alexander" was only a cover for Barbara Ehrenreich; her behavior would, for better or worse, always be my own. In fact, in a practical sense I was simply changing my occupational status from "self-employed/writer" to "unemployed"--a distinction that might be imperceptible to the casual observer. I would still stay home most days at my computer, only now, instead of researching and writing articles, I would be researching and contacting companies that might employ me. The new name and fake résumé were only my ticket into the ranks of the unemployed white-collar Americans who spend their days searching for a decent-paying job. The project required some minimal structure; since I was stepping into the unknown, I needed to devise some guidelines for myself. My first rule was that I would do everything possible to land a job, which meant being open to every form of help that presented itself: utilizing whatever books, web sites, and businesses, for example, that I could find offering guidance to job seekers. I would endeavor to behave as I was expected to, insofar as I could decipher the expectations. I did not know exactly what forms of effort would be required of successful job seekers, only that I would, as humbly and diligently as possible, give it my best try. Second, I would be prepared to go anywhere for a job or even an interview, and would advertise this geographic flexibility in my contacts with potential employers. I was based in Charlottesville, Virginia, throughout this project, but I was prepared to travel anywhere in the United States to get a job and then live there for several months if I found one. Nor would I shun any industry--other than those where I might be recognized--as unglamorous or morally repugnant. My third rule was that I would have to take the first job I was offered that met my requirements as to income and benefits. I knew that the project would take a considerable investment of time and money, so I set aside ten months9 and the sum of $5,000 for travel and other expenses that might arise in the course of job searching. My expectation was that I would make the money back once I got a job and probably come out far ahead. As for the time, I budgeted roughly four to six months for the search--five months being the average for unemployed people in 200410--and another three to four months of employment. I would have plenty of time both to sample the life of the white-collar unemployed and to explore the corporate world they sought to reenter. From the outset, I pictured this abstraction, the corporate world, as a castle on a hill--well fortified, surrounded by difficult checkpoints, with its glass walls gleaming invitingly from on high. I knew that it would be a long hard climb just to get to the door. But I've made my way into remote and lofty places before--college and graduate school, for example. I'm patient and crafty; I have stamina and resolve; and I believed that I could do this too. In fact, the project, as I planned it, seemed less challenging than I might have liked. As an undercover reporter, I would of course be insulated from the real terrors of the white-collar work world, if only because I was independent of it for my income and self-esteem. Most of my fellow job seekers would probably have come to their status involuntarily, through layoffs or individual firings. For them, to lose a job is to enter a world of pain. Their income collapses to the size of an unemployment insurance check; their self-confidence plummets. Much has been written about the psychological damage incurred by the unemployed--their sudden susceptibility to depression, divorce, substance abuse, and even suicide.11 No such calamities could occur in my life as an undercover job seeker and, later, jobholder. There would be no sudden descent into poverty, nor any real sting of rejection. I also started with the expectation that this project would be far less demanding than the work I had undertaken for Nickel and Dimed. Physically, it would be a piece of cake--no scrubbing, no heavy lifting, no walking or running for hours on end. As for behavior, I imagined that I would be immune from the constant subservience and obedience demanded of low-wage blue-collar workers, that I would be far freer to be, and express, myself. As it turns out, I was wrong on all counts. Copyright (c) 2005 by Barbara Ehrenreich 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.


Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
1 Finding a Coach in the Land of Ozp. 15
2 Stepping Out into the World of Networkingp. 41
3 Surviving Boot Campp. 65
4 The Transformationp. 95
5 Networking with the Lordp. 121
6 Aiming Higherp. 149
7 In Which I Am Offered a "Job"p. 173
8 Downward Mobilityp. 191
Conclusionp. 213
Afterwordp. 239
Acknowledgmentsp. 249