Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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
"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
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.
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.
About the Author
Barbara Ehrenreich is the bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed, Bright-sided, This Land Is Their Land, Dancing in the Streets and Blood Rites, among others. A frequent contributor to Harper's and The Nation, she has also been a columnist at The New York Times and Time magazine. She is the winner of the L.A. Times Book Prize for Current Interest and ALA Notable Books for Nonfiction. Ehrenreich was born in Butte, Montana, when it was still a bustling mining town. She studied physics at Reed College, and earned a Ph.D. in cell biology from Rockefeller University. Rather than going into laboratory work, she got involved in activism, and soon devoted herself to writing her innovative journalism. She lives and works in Florida.
Reading Group Guide
Discussion Questions 1. Discuss your own career path. How has corporate downsizing, reorganizing or outsourcing affected your life? 2. Ehrenreich recalls her fathers experience climbing the corporate ladder in the 50s and 60s. He was loyal to his company, and it in turn was loyal to him. Would this be a reasonable expectation today? How have corporations changed in the way they treat their employees over the last generation? 3. Ehrenreich includes an eye-opening discussion of the personality tests, including the much-touted Myers-Briggs test, that are administered throughout corporate America. Were you surprised to discover how unscientific these tests are? Have you ever undergone similar testing? Do you question, as Ehrenreich does, whether you even possess a fixed “personality”? What various personality traits are you called upon to exhibit every day as a worker, parent, or spouse? 4. Throughout her job search, Ehrenreich is struck by the constant advice to adopt a “positive attitude” no matter what youre going through as an unemployed person. Do you think this is a good psychological strategy? Or do we pay a price for constantly concealing anger and sadness under a happy face? 5. How has the Internet influenced the job search process? In Ehrenreichs case, was it a blessing or a curse? 6. Ehrenreich describes most of her fellow job seekers as passive and seemingly beaten down -even more so than the blue collar workers she met while researching her earlier book Nickel and Dimed. Do you think this passivity was a result of unemployment or do you see something similar among white collar corporate job-holders you know? In our experience, does the corporate culture foster innovation and independent thinking or conformity and obedience? 7. In chapter three, “Surviving Boot Camp,” Ehrenreichs coach insists that we only have ourselves to blame for whatever happens to us in life. How widespread do you think this idea is in our culture? Would you call it “victim blaming” or a correct assessment of ones personal responsibility? What do you think is the effect of this idea on people struggling with unemployment? 8. At one point, Ehrenreich makes a bid for a job with a company allegedly involved in abusive interrogations of detainees in Iraq. Have you ever considered a job-- or faced an assignment at work -- that went against your own ethical convictions? How did you handle the situation? 9. Chapter five, “Networking with the Lord,” describes the evangelical Christian groups Ehrenreich stumbled onto in her quest for employment. Was she right to be critical of their proselytizing? What role, if any, should religion play in a secular workplace? 10. Discuss the gender and racial dimensions of job searching. Do you think Ehrenreichs experience would have been different if she had been male, or a person of color? 11. Did the coaches hired by Ehrenreich do anything worthwhile for her? What accounts for the popularity of career coaches, despite the fact that they are unregulated, arent required to have any particular credentials, and charge a fee that is not contingent on the clients bona fide success in finding a job? Have we all become too dependent on dubious “experts” to tell us how to live our lives? 12. Discuss the books title. What are college-educated young American being lured into? If a college education - even in a business major - no longer offers occupational security, how should young people think about their careers? 13. Some of the people Ehrenreich quotes -both scholars and job seekers - assert that achievement no longer guarantees success in the corporate world. In fact, if achievement leads to a higher salary, you may be a tempting target for a lay-off. What does it do to us psychologically when good work is no longer rewarded, and may even be punished? 14. Ehrenreich reports that, in a psychological sense, this project was far more challenging than the work she did for Nickel and Dimed. At least in the blue collar world, the expectations were straightforward: you do the work and you get paid, however inadequately. But in the white collar corporate world, factors like “likeability” seem to outweigh performance. Do you feel the pressure to fit in and be likeable in your job, and what kind of burden does this create for you? 15. The only job offers the author reeled in were independent-contractor sales positions, offering no benefits or security. In fact, benefits such as health insurance have been disappearing for everyone. Have you seen this trend in your own life and how have you tried to make do? 16. Ehrenreich finds the corporate culture shot through with what she terms irrational, even delusional, forms of thinking. Do you agree? And what does it say about the future of our economy if this is true? 17. What were your thoughts as you finished reading Bait and Switch? Is there any action you can take to reverse the trend toward greater job insecurity? Do you predict that legislation will ever be passed limiting a corporations ability to lay people off at will or outsource jobs overseas? Can the compensation gap between CEOs and other employees keep expanding indefinitely?