Review of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bait and Switch
|July 16, 2012||Posted by Editor under Arts & Humanities, Work|
Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bait and Switch is the white collar version of Nickel and Dimed. Like she does in the latter text, Ehrenreich goes “undercover” as a job seeker. Only this time, instead of interrogating the ethics of minimum wage, she is examining the culture of corporate America, particularly the life of the “transitional” white collar worker who has been laid off and is seeking reemployment.
Disguised as a PR professional (her actual work experience translates well to this career, though it’s not her official title in real life), Ehrenreich goes on the job market with the goal of landing a mid-level to executive public relations position. As it turns out, getting a job was much harder than she ever expected. She subjects herself to endless networking events, job coaching, and even to an “image makeover,” all designed to make her more attractive to potential employers. And, all to no avail.
Six months of schmoozing and hustling and spending gets her essentially nowhere. What she does learn is that looking for work is literally a full time job in itself. She also uncovers the sad truth that hiring at this advanced level depends almost entirely on “likability,” rather than actual skills—90% of the hiring process rests on “emotion” (38), according to one source she cites. Furthermore, the “business” of transitional employment is a lucrative one, with thousands of people earning a living every year from advising these desperate seekers on how to better fit the corporate mold.
The book was published in 2005, but it’s amazing how prophetically Ehrenreich’s Bait and Switch forecasts our current recession. Much of her discussion centers on the new contingency of all American workers, and on the impact this contingency has to both the worker and to the economy. She calls for a system of universal health care that isn’t tied to the workplace, especially in light of the corporate propensity to quickly cut costs by slashing payroll. Her calls to action are even more compelling today, as the bleak job market continues and as the American workforce grows more and more precarious.
On a personal note, I can’t get enough of Ehrenreich. This book lasted only two days. I feel like she’s my intellectual soul mate, and, as I’ve mentioned before, her writing style—intelligent conversational with a hint of sarcastic humor—is so fun to read. While other books I’ve started are languishing in my “currently reading” category, every book I open by Ehrenreich barely leaves my hands for the next 48 hours.