Bait and switch : the (futile) pursuit of the American dream

by Barbara Ehrenreich

Paper Book, 2005


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, then begins trawling a series of EST-like "boot camps," 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've done everything right-gotten 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.… (more)



Call number




New York : Metropolitan Books, 2005.


User reviews

LibraryThing member ruststar
While the author did shed some light on some of the shady practices in the "transition" industry, I would have been more sympathetic to her plight if A) she wasn't trying to fake her way into a job she wasn't qualified for or truly knowledgable about, and B) she had tried to find reputable career
Show More
counselors. You know, people with an education and verifiable experience in career counseling? Nor did she make any effort to avail herself of the number of free resources out there for job-seekers, because that wouldn't have been quite as sensationalist. I really liked Nickel and Dimed, so I was disappointed to find a different tone in this one.
Show Less
LibraryThing member drinkingtea
Frustrating for the author, I am sure. Still, I can see some areas where her job hunt was lacking. For one thing, I think most people would take a job doing something, anything, to 'settle' while looking for something else. While in that 'settling' job, you have a far greater chance to hear of
Show More
opportunities. Her requirements were rather ridiculous, as well. That said, the average person is told that if they go to college and work hard, then the world will be their oyster. They neglect to mention that there are a few hundred other creatures after the nonexistant pearl. Frustrating, but I think had she aimed a little lower, she may have done better. Maybe.
Show Less
LibraryThing member pbirch01
One of the last lines in this book refers to Corporate America as "being evil people by day and going home to live the American Dream". In many ways, this is true and this book illustrates that point well. The author attempts to find a job as an executive and receives only two "jobs" after months
Show More
of searching. It is a tough look at America today and tougher for anyone without job security. Still, its worth the read just to realize how many people are also affected by it and how ridiculous career coaches can be.
Show Less
LibraryThing member jcbrunner
Labeled as the white collar follow-up to Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich's books title only refers to her own switched topic. In Nickel and Dimed, she entered the rock-bottom world of the labor market as an undercover observer, dabbling a few weeks in different jobs. What makes that book
Show More
interesting, are not Ehrenreich's own observations but those of the people she meets.

In this book, she not only fails in her primary mission to get a mid-level white collar job. She also fails to interview mid-level white collar employees (she mainly talks to the long-term unemployed). Instead, she turns the book into an account of her travails with the snake-oil self-help and coaching industry and the strange and stigmatized world of job-hunting and unemployment. Some of her observations are pertinent and the US health care and unemployment benefits system is certainly flawed.

Her experiment, however, must flounder from the start as the PR job she is seeking is both a figment and unsuitable to the profile of qualification she presents. What is a PR person worth without a solid network? Offering PR advice to companies with bad reputations is a flawed and crazy approach. Those companies know about their bad reputations, caused by the underlying bad business practices. Ehrenreich's cosmetic fix will not help at all. Ehrenreich's time would have been better spent interviewing her laid-off colleagues at the New York Times. Her sheltered existence allows her to pontificate about things she doesn't quite understand (similar to the Moustache of Understanding interviewing taxi drivers)..
Show Less
LibraryThing member GoofyOcean110
I thought her premise that she could fake her way into a high-paying job while not knowing much about it -- and thinking that this would be relatively easy -- was a bit haughty.
LibraryThing member ryvre
There's only so much one can write about upper middle class people throwing away their money while looking for a job. It really felt like Ms. Ehrenreich was stretching an chapter's worth of information into a book.
LibraryThing member Meggo
Having read Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed in America", I had high hopes for this book, which, unfortunately, did not live up to my expectations. It could be that the subject matter - middle class workers' use of employment counsellors and their associated bretheren - are simply not as compelling
Show More
as the plight of the working poor in America. It could also be that the plight of displaced middle and upper middle managers lacks the compelling tension of the truly desperate. I was left feeling that the subjects of this book were not so much desperate as merely worn out.
Show Less
LibraryThing member 23eris
In general I enjoyed this book. Much like her book Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich goes undercover in the job world, but this time seeking a position in the white collar workforce.

She spends a great deal of time and money "networking" and working with career coaches. In fact, her search for a job
Show More
seems consumed with these tasks. In my opinion, it is her experience in this aspect of jon searching that is most revealing about the white collar workforce.

Overall, the books rather meanders through the topic, and ultimately the conclusion is a little weak, however bleak a portrait it paints of the predicament of the people profiled in the book. It does however have a nice tie-in with the Michael Moore film Sicko, since her argument also ties in to the burgeoning profits of the health care industry and the extreme difficulty of getting and keeping reasonable health insurance - especially for white collar workers who have lost their jobs.
Show Less
LibraryThing member meranduh
I loved Nickel and Dimed. Bait and Switch? Not so much.

The idea behind the book is a smart one: What happens to the thousands who do everything right and still get screwed by corporate America? What do they do to get by? Are they just as jaded and jilted by the American dream as those on the bottom
Show More
economic rung?

But the bait here is a book promising insight into this often overlooked and undertalked about world. The switch is that, as an imposter, Ehrenreich hardly scratches the surface of promising what she says she will. You spend the first hundred pages waiting for it to begin only to realize it never will. Perhaps because it was a faux job hunt, or because everything from her resume to her name were only half-truths, she barely gets off the ground in this book before its over. How can a book that says so little seem so long?

She doesn't land that elusive job and gives up. Game over. By throwing in the towel, Ehrenreich only proves how little she gets it. She misses her own point. The real people whose lives she is supposed to be imitating and expounding upon don't have such a luxury. They settle. They don't give up.
Show Less
LibraryThing member brianinbuffalo
The author's undercover pursuits offer some valuable insights, chronicling the challenges that face millions of displaced white collar workers. There are a few truly hilarious anecdotes, sprinkled with some practical advice for folks who find themselves on a job-hunting safari. Unfortunately,
Show More
Ehrenreich's work becomes almost as tedious as an excruciatingly long job search. She spends far too much time making the same points about the perils of "networking" and career coaches. As an expanded essay or a three-part magazine feature, "Bait and Switch" would be a great resource. But it just doesn't seem to have enough material to justify its book-length girth.
Show Less
LibraryThing member heinous-eli
I thought that it couldn't get any more real or depressing than Nickel and Dimed, but in this book, Ehrenreich takes on the myths of the white-collar world and finds one where inaction masquerades as self-improvement and where people are so afraid of pointing out what is wrong with the system that
Show More
they spend their lives blaming themselves. Especially pertinent and prophetic in the wake (or in the throes, depending on your point of view) of The Great Recession, this book exposes the white collar ideology of self-help and self-blame for what it is: wishful thinking. I know too many people whose situations mirror or are even worse than the ones described in the book; it should be required reading for all incoming college freshmen.
Show Less
LibraryThing member mahallett
why did i keep reading?
because we both have breast cancer?
because i had chucked the previous audio book?
because i could follow this even though it was boring and stupid and way too long--a magazine article maybe?
who were these people who gave it 5 stars? zombies?
LibraryThing member anais_a
There was a lot of buzz about Barbara Ehrenreich's earlier book, Nickel and Dimed, in which she tried to survive on minimum wage. In the case of that book, the 'fun experiment' aspect of it turned me off, and I never picked it up. Bait and Switch called to me from a friend's bookshelf one lazy
Show More
morning in a guest room, though, and I finished it by that night. If nothing else, Ehrenreich has narrative flair.

In Bait and Switch, Ehrenreich spends several months attempting to find a white collar job with some responsibility paying more than $50,000 per year. A professor and journalist by trade, she limits herself to careers with only a tangential connection to her real-life experience, so that she won't be recognized. Thus, she ends up with a mostly fictional, slightly sparse PR resume. As an older woman, the contrived aspects of her experiment definitely affect her job search negatively, and this reality troubles the book from beginning to end.

However, the book has some plus sides. It reads like fiction and completely sucked me in. Not to say that some parts didn't drag - in fact, very little actually happens in this book - but it has the same allure as some (well-done) reality TV. As the reader, I felt like I was watching Ehrenreich try and fail to be me. She's exposing the white collar world to, well, white collar readers. What reader of this book hasn't searched for a job on the internet, exposed themselves to recruiters or attempted to network? In this way, it felt a little like a personal pity party - "Thanks, Barbara. I know! It's tough out there! You're telling me!"

At the same time, it does expose some of the ironies of the middle income professional - the lack of representation for white collar workers, for example, in a world of gargantuan corporate entities.

All in all, a worthwhile read, although perhaps not one of the great feats of exposee journalism.
Show Less
LibraryThing member alycias
I thought I would have a really great review when I was through with this book. Sadly, there just wasn't enough meat here. I definitely empathized with Ehrenreich's struggle, but perhaps it was too above my own status to be able to relate to. Or perhaps it was just too unrealistic. She handles the
Show More
overwhelming uncertainty and life-questioning that being unemployed or underemployed leaves you feeling psychologically, but she does not ever get put into a corner at which she is unable to function or dole out another unemployed chunk of money at career coaches. So what you are left with is a book about a woman without a job but also without any problems that another worker might have; rent, food, bills, etc.
I don't think that this book is as problematic for me as "Nickel and Dimed" in that I don't think it was as much of a stretch for her to undergo the premise for this work. Searching for job ads online seems a little closer to the real-life Ehrenreich's profession than cleaning houses and waitressing does. It feels less like she, as an outsider and someone "above" the work she was doing was looking down in disapproval. That said, both books seem really weird to me. Who the fuck is she writing for, anyhow? Someone who was never unemployed and needs to be told that this is how it is? Overall, Ehrenreich makes me feel bitchy and forces me to realize that the only edge she has is that she is not a member of the groups that she studies. She needs these undercover exposes to show how the little people live. She may not mean to have this perspective be there, but the fundamental flaw of her books is that it is all-too present for me. I am offended by someone of a high class coming on down to mine and then trying to describe it to me. It just makes me angry and supports the whole need-money-to-get-money catch-22, the Marxist flaw that the only people that can start the revolution are those that are not working their lives away (thus not workers, thus not a marxist revolution...) sigh, sigh, work, work.
I wish I was not unemployed and disgusted and thus had more energy to devote to why this book is wrong, but I am just too overwhelmed by everything described here and a powerful awareness of class and futility.
Show Less
LibraryThing member sonyaseattle
You can only say so much about executive-level job hunting. Kind of a disappointing follow-up to her last book; hope the next is more compelling.
LibraryThing member Githzerai
It's odd, that when we want to understand a particular section of the human experience, we often ask an outsider. Surely, somewhere out there, there are white collar workers who want to share their experiences with unemployment.

Still, there is something to be said for the outsider's perspective.
Show More
It can create interesting narrative possibilities. Sadly, that's not really evident in Bait and Switch. Ehrenreich never really cracks into the corporate world, never quite looses her academic perspective on her subjects. If she had been willing to dedicate another year to the experiment, she might have had something great-but I can't fault her too much for cutting the experiment short and writing with what she had. A bit shallow, a bit slow, but her characteristic humour shines through.
Show Less
LibraryThing member gmicksmith
This is an easy-read as Ehrenrich takes her Studs Terkel activism to dissect corporate downsizing. Her breezy style lends itself to her quirky humor and insightful dissection of the coaches, presenters, contact, and job offers she gets as she goes underground to research job-hunting as a pretend
Show More
candidate. She relates the difficulty of actually finding gainful employment for those who did everything right, kept the act together, went to college, and pursued the American Dream. This book would no doubt be a great solace for anyone realizing the bait and switch, and loss of the American Dream, throughout the Clinton 90s.
Show Less
LibraryThing member amwhitsett
The "experiment" in this one isn't as well designed as Nickel and Dimed, and the implications not as chilling, but Ehrenreich's clear and engaging writing is just as strong. There is something about the way that she expresses herself that allies the reader and makes you want to keep following her
Show More
story. Sadly, I think the formula of creating a charade to get the inside scoop on ways of life fell a bit short here. Still, it is worth reading to get Ehrenreich's perspectives and to understand a little more how hard it is to break into business.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Othemts
This is the follow-up to Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed where she spent several months working minimum-wage jobs to understand the precarious lives led by America’s working poor. While that book was eye opening in showing the abuses and suffering working class people live with, this one seems to
Show More
hit the mark. This time Ehrenreich attempts to find work among America’s executive elite paying particular attention to the career coaches, employment seminars and groups that prey upon white collar professionals “in transition.” While exposing the callous nature in which the executive unemployed have their self-worth toyed with, much of what Ehrenreich writes about the people she encounters sounds cold and mean-spirited. There seems to be something about the way she is financially-independent and go about the job search on a lark that sets her apart from the real job-seekers that seems cruel rather than insightful. Then again, I wonder if it’s just me, if I identify with the white-collar world so that this seems an incursion as opposed to the patronizing view that Nickel and Dimed was a valuable social experiment. Anyhow, a lot of what Ehrenreich writes is pretty damn funny, and if nothing else shows the hardships put on employees of all levels by the man!

“If you have been spat out the by the great corporate machine and left to contemplate your presumed inadequacy, it makes sense to fill the day with microtasks, preferably supervised by someone else. Imagining one’s search as a ‘job’ must satisfy the Calvinist craving to be doing something, anything, of a worklike nature, and Americans may be especially prone to Calvinist angst. We often credit some activity with the phrase ‘at least it keeps me busy’ – as if busyness were a desirable state regardless of how you achieve it.” P. 46

“But from the point of view of the economic ‘winners’ – those who occupy powerful and high-paying jobs – the view that one’s fate depends entirely on oneself must be remarkably convenient. It explains the winners’ success in the most flattering terms while invalidating the complaints of the losers … It’s not the world that needs changing, is the message, it’s you. No need, then, to band together to work for a saner economy or a more human-friendly corporate environment, or to band together at all. As one of my fellow campers put it, we are our own enemies.” P. 85
Show Less
LibraryThing member evethejust
I read this book when I was going through my phase of searching and settling. It gave me confidence knowing I was not alone in my suffering, but it was also a bit depressing and disheartening to read about a whole year she spent without it getting any better. However, just like another reviewer
Show More
here said, it's in the settling that you find the real opportunities.

While I enjoyed reading about her experiences with networkers and coaches, I would have liked to see an actual struggle from the inside of corporate America. This was supposed to be an expose of corporate life, but it read like she was just on the outside looking in. She didn't spend a single day in a cube-farm, she didn't have to suck up to a mean, under-qualified, insecure boss and she didn't have to attend a single company meeting or watch a round of layoffs. She tried to step in at the top rather than climbing the ladder like the rest of us - and no wonder she failed! If it was so easy to come in on top, wouldn't we all be there?

The premise of this book ensured that it was destined for failure. Nickel and Dimed worked because it doesn't take long to obtain and work at a minimum wage job and realize that it both sucks and won't pay the bills. But infiltrating corporate America is almost as difficult as infiltrating the Mafia. It takes years of dedication and soul-selling to get that view from the top. Years which she cannot afford to spend on a project that would produce only one book.

That said, if she'd settled for an entry-level position I imagine she would have had a lot more to write about.
Show Less
LibraryThing member akelei
A good and easy read though a bit depressing. Especially as the tendency is not to create more solidarity, better health insurance or benefits in America, but to diminish benefits, stress individual responsibility and implement the American system in Europe. In which, as Ehrenreich points out,
Show More
unemployment is your own fault, nothing to do with the market or corporate culture, but with your own flawed personality. The job insecurity hits not only blue collar workers anymore: also highly educated white collar workers have to deal with it. Ehrenreich's sense of humour and the way she describes her observations makes the bad message bearable to read. She's spent months as an undercover journalist trying to find a job through internet searches, applying for jobs, networking and considering job seeking as a regular job, getting help from coaches and church meetings. A discouraging but sometimes hilarious quest.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Carlie
Ehrenreich attempts to enter the corporate world. Beginning with job coaching and resume writing, moving on to failed networking attempts, she learns that the corporate culture is inhospitable to her as well as to many others. She sees that white collar workers need to band together to overcome the
Show More
many barriers to fruitful employment.
Show Less
LibraryThing member frederick0t6
I have previously read Ms Ehrenreich's blog and have heard only good things about her writing. Much of her reputation seems to be based on a previous work of hers called, "Nickeled and Dimed," which chronicles the lives of the working poor in America. Famously, she actually worked in a variety of
Show More
minimum wage jobs for research...

This book is vaguely conceived as a middle class professional equivalent to her earlier work. The argument, briefly put, is that education and experience are far from guarantees of getting a good middle class job (which she defined in 2005 as having health insurance and paying at least $50,000 USD per annum). The problem is that this point, while certainly quite probable, is not argued well.

The book is really more of a quest for a job, and her failure to attain same makes for an ultimately depressing if somewhat informative read. The quasi diary quality of the work can become frustrating, but she certainly skewers certain aspects of the job hunting (esp. job coaches and "networking") with skill.
Show Less
LibraryThing member atyson
Some useful insights into the pointlessnes of the job-search/career development industry in the US (and people in the UK will be able to recognise similar symptoms). The author assumes an identity to try and land herself an executive role in PR. And therein lies a fundamental flaw in the project
Show More
right from the start. She is not really an out-of-work PR executive. She herself is a scam, so that might account for the fact that this doesn't work as an expose or scathing indictment of consultancy and recruitment practices. It is a rather restrained, witty (and beautifully written) account which flags up various idiocies which most people will have encountered in the jobs markets and recruitment practices today. She puts things into perspective but without really biting the bullet, rolling up her sleeves, and getting to grips with her corporate Enemy. If she had gone further it may have had a lot more bite. Perhaps needless to say that suggested alternatives are pretty thin on the ground.
Show Less
LibraryThing member mamorico
Some interesting observations about attempting to find executive employment in the U.S. economy. Tends to drag. Not the book that Nickle and Dimed is.


Original publication date



0805076069 / 9780805076066
Page: 0.234 seconds