Online Edition: Spring 2006

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Bait and Switch

The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream

Barbara Ehrenreich

Metropolitan Books ($24)

by Robert J. Nebel

No one ever said that finding a job in George W. Bush's America was going to be easy, but veteran liberal author Barbara Ehrenreich set out to prove how hard it really is in Bait and Switch. Released last fall to rave reviews and an appearance on the coveted New York Times bestseller list, Bait and Switch is a reminder to all of us that, with or without a job, a search for one on any level is far from pleasant.

Ehrenreich, has found her niche in recent years by going undercover to report on the job front in America. In Nickel and Dimed, she took a series of low-wage jobs to tell white collar America that life as a waitress, maid or store clerk is beyond demeaning. With Bait and Switch, Ehrenreich takes on the white collar world with a job search in the asphalt jungle of Atlanta, Georgia. Assuming the identity of Barbara Alexander, a middle-aged woman in search of a public relations executive position, she does all the right things: attending job fairs; meeting with recruiters; posting her resume with all of the major services; even consulting with career coaches. Her experiences and subsequent observations demonstrate the irony of working with these self-elected professionals: even though you are out of work, you need money to hire them, dress nicely, and travel to where these job fairs and seminars take place.

There is no doubt that Bait and Switch conjures up feelings of frustration and hopelessness, but after reading it, one must come to at least a few reality checks. The economy has tanked for everyone over the past five-plus years. Auto assembly workers are taking it on the chin, with their jobs going to Japan, and their unions have been evaporating for years. Technology positions are going to India and China. Thus, "Barbara Alexander" is pretty much in the same boat as everyone in the rest of the job market.

What makes Bait and Switch meaningful is that Ehrenreich gets the reader to feel everyone's pain. In addition to her own experiences, she meets a number of desperate jobseekers in other fields who have fallen on horrific times. The reader will want to give all of these people in Bait and Switch a good job with benefits. Furthermore, Ehrenreich is a brilliant writer who tells the stories that most of the American press will not. It would be folly to dismiss her as a reactionary liberal agent of the progressive movement. Her undercover work takes the lid off the gratuitous commercial crap that penetrates all aspects of our society and she writes in a clear, concise manner that makes the large pill she has to offer easier to swallow. Bait and Switch is an important historical account of job searching in the Bush years.


To purchase Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch, click here.