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Bait And Switch: The (futile) Pursuit of the American Dream


Bait And Switch: The (futile) Pursuit of the American Dream

It's commonly assumed in the United States that if you go to
college, get a job and work hard, you will be successful. You will
own a house and a couple of cars, you will be able to afford
medical care, and you will be able to educate your children to a
level where they're guaranteed even more success than you've
achieved. If this was ever true, it isn't anymore, and Barbara
Ehrenreich shows us the results.

In her first book, NICKEL AND DIMED, Ehrenreich went undercover as
an unskilled worker to learn how the lowest level of workers
supports themselves. They don't, she learned, because the system
doesn't work, and her second book shows that the system doesn't
work for the business classes either. Here, Ehrenreich poses as an
out-of-work PR executive and details her job search.

Franz Kafka joined forces with Charles Darwin to create the brutal,
surreal corporate world the author discovers. People are downsized,
laid off, forced into early retirement, and just plain fired as a
matter of course in this brave new world of ours, for reasons as
pointed as ageism and sexism, as arbitrary as a profitable company
wanting to show more of a profit, or for no reason at all. Of
course, even knowing the fragile task of holding a job in this
environment, the human resources departments hold the job-seeker
responsible for every unemployed minute. Working time lost to
illness is unemployment, working time lost to child or elder care
is unemployment, working as a consultant is unemployment.
Unemployment is unemployment, and the longer such periods last, the
blacker the mark against the prospective employee.

You're lucky to be working, even if you're doing more work for less
money over longer hours than you ever expected, even if you get no
benefits, even if you survived the last round of layoffs and have
no idea what will happen the next time. For if you're not working,
you become one of the lost souls Ehrenreich meets. They max out
their credit cards on image consultants and career coaches, each
one contradicting what the last one said, on networking forums that
turn out to be loosely disguised prayer meetings, on advice books,
and on inspirational videos. They spend months and even years
surfing the Internet and sending resumés to companies that
rarely bother to respond at all. Oh, it's depressing.

But it's not depressing! How could it be depressing? Jobseekers are
instructed to leave behind any negative thoughts --- anger,
depression or mounting panic, for instance --- in order to present
a positive image in their next interview. They are warned that
revealing any negativity will count against them, as will age,
gender, overeducation, having children, or any interests at all
beyond devoting themselves entirely to their prospective employers.

In the book's conclusion, the author urges the unemployed to band
together and lobby for more worker protections. I hope they make it
happen, I really do.


Reviewed by Colleen Quinn ( on December 22, 2010

Bait And Switch: The (futile) Pursuit of the American Dream
by Barbara Ehrenreich

  • Publication Date: September 6, 2005
  • Genres: Current Affairs, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books
  • ISBN-10: 0805076069
  • ISBN-13: 9780641786570