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Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dreamby Barbara Ehrenreich
"What is effectively evoked by [Bait and Switch]...is the circus of predators who feed off the hopes and desperation of these job seekers. These are companies or organizations that offer everything from résumé enhancement to career coaching. What comes across in Bait and Switch is how often contradictory the advice and services these companies provide can be." Gerry Donaghy, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
The bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed goes back undercover to do for America's ailing middle class what she did for the working poor.
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 shadowy world of the white-collar unemployed. Armed with a plausible résumé of a professional "in transition," she attempts to land a middle-class job — undergoing career coaching and personality testing, then trawling a series of EST-like boot camps, job fairs, networking events, and evangelical job-search ministries. She gets an image makeover, works to project a winning attitude, yet is proselytized, scammed, lectured, and — again and again — rejected.
Bait and Switch highlights the people who've done everything right — gotten college degrees, developed marketable skills, and built up impressive résumés — yet have become repeatedly vulnerable to financial disaster, and not simply due to the vagaries of the business cycle. Today's ultra-lean corporations take pride in shedding their "surplus" employees — plunging them, for months or years at a stretch, into the twilight zone of white-collar unemployment, where job searching becomes a full-time job in itself. As Ehrenreich discovers, there are few social supports for these newly disposable workers — and little security even for those who have jobs.
Like the now classic Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch is alternately hilarious and tragic, a searing exposé of economic cruelty where we least expect it.
"A wild bestseller in the field of poverty writing, Ehrenreich's 2001 expose 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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Another unsettling message about an ugly America from a trustworthy herald. Read it and weep — especially if you're a job-seeker." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] worthy companion to Nickel and Dimed....Bait and Switch is a cautionary tale about the disposability of all American working people — not just those whose parents couldn't send them to the right schools..." The Washington Post
"Bait and Switch is about a process rather than an end result, and it captures that process all too clearly. As usual, Ms. Ehrenreich makes great, acerbic company for the reader and tells her story knowingly." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"[Ehrenreich is] at her best — wry, eloquent, hilarious — describing the charlatans who market themselves as career coaches....Sadly, this new critique lacks the biting, damning firsthand detail that made Dimed such a treat. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"Though Bait and Switch isn't her most compelling book, it's an honorable addition to an essential body of work. We need her lonely, eloquent voice, but more than this, we need others to join in and many more to begin heeding it." Los Angeles Times
"[The] writing is taut and engaging. And her concept...does make you want to find out if she succeeds (even though, as the author acknowledges, play-acting joblessness is not the real thing)." Baltimore Sun
"[F]unny, well-paced....Bait and Switch reads like the 'I told you so' sequel to [Fear of Falling], and it has all the grim, mean-spirited humor one might expect from such a rigged exercise." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"If you are an over-40 executive who might be losing your job soon...steer clear of...Bait and Switch....The rest of us could have our eyes opened by Ehrenreich's engaging, if flawed, book on what happens when midlife professionals must find jobs." Detroit Free Press
"Too often, Ehrenreich discovers issues worthy of scrutiny, only to overshadow them with unrelated anecdotes, snide asides and an overarching disdain for the majority of individuals and ideas she encounters." The Oregonian
"Unfortunately, Bait and Switch neither rings true nor delivers any real news....Anyone who's actually had a corporate job will see right away that [Ehrenreich] doesn't know what she's talking about." Boston Globe
"Much of Bait and Switch amounts to nothing more than annotated minutes of group networking sessions and job fairs....Alas, as with New Coke, this derivative of a proven formula falls flat." Alexandra Jacobs, The New York Times Book Review
"In order to write with authority, one has to spend real time with people inside their institutions. Ehrenreich does not come close, and as a result, Bait and Switch is incomplete." Rocky Mountain News
The bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed goes back undercover to enter the world of the white-collar unemployed. As Ehrenreich discovers, there are few social supports for these newly disposable workers — and little security even for those who have jobs.
The bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed goes back undercover to do for Americas ailing middle class what she did for the working poor.
Barbara Ehrenreichs 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,” attempts to land a “middle class job” undergoing career coaching and personality testing, then begins trawling a series of EST-like “boot camps,” job fairs, “networking events,” and evangelical job-search “ministries.” She gets an “image makeover” to prepare her for the corporate world and works hard to project the “winning attitude” recommended for a successful job search. She is proselytized, scammed, lectured and, again and again, rejected.
BAIT AND SWITCH highlights the people whove done everything right—gotten college degrees, developed marketable skills, and built up impressive resumes—yet have become repeatedly vulnerable to financial disaster and not simply due to the vagaries of the business cycle. Todays ultra-lean corporations take pride in shedding their “surplus” employees—plunging them, for months or years at a stretch, into the twilight zone of white-collar unemployment, where job-searching becomes a full-time job in itself. As Ehrenreich discovers, there are few social supports for the new disposable workers—and little security even for those who have jobs.
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.
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.
About the Author
Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to Harper's and The Nation, she has been a columnist at the New York Times and Time magazine. She lives in Virginia.
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