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Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream

3.42  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,795 Ratings  ·  491 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 Bai
Paperback, 272 pages
Published July 25th 2006 by Holt Paperbacks (first published 2005)
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Jan 28, 2010 Trevor rated it really liked it
Part of the reason why I’m a somewhat less than trustworthy reviewer is that writers really do get extra points from me for being able to write well and for being nice people. I mean, if I have enjoyed spending time with a writer over the couple of days it has taken me to read their book, well, that goes a long way towards me thinking that their book was wonderful and worthwhile. This book was wonderful and worthwhile and it was written by someone who can both write and be nice at the same time. ...more
Aug 11, 2008 Meg rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: The self-righteous
OK, so it may be that the blue and pink collar work force is easier to love than middle management. It may be that the real heroism in this country is found closer to the poverty line then to middle management. Certainly, it is clear that Barbara Ehrenreich believes this to be true. A comparison of Bait and Switch with her earlier Nickel and Dimed demonstrated that while Ehrenreich finds much to lament in the plight of the working class, she generally finds the corporate world laughable and the ...more
Nadine Dajani
Apr 13, 2013 Nadine Dajani rated it it was amazing
Although this book was published in 2005, I didn't read it until 2010. If I had read it in 2005, I might not have related to it so intensely, as I did in 2009 when I was laid off for the first time. I would get laid off twice more before landing stable employment again in 2012. Back in 2005 I was smug, fully insulated from the severity of unemployment, never having been out of a job since I got my first part-time job at 16, working at the mall. This turned into paid internships at prestigious ac ...more
Aug 05, 2012 Skywalker rated it liked it
I don't really understand all of the vitriol that some of the other reviewer's are expressing about this book. I withheld two stars because I felt that overall she "touched" on the investigative journalism rather than threw herself into it, and it wasn't her most passionate work.

That being said, I have to say as a former job seeker (during the 2009 California recession), this book and it's assertions are right on the money. Ehrenreich details the struggle that middle class, otherwise well equipp
Nov 22, 2007 Kathy rated it it was ok
From a blog post I wrote in 2006:

I was looking forward to reading Barbara Ehrenreich's latest tome, Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. I really enjoyed Nickel and Dimed in which the author took on several minimum wage type jobs and tried to live on her salary. Her latest effort is a look at what the white collar folks go through when they get laid off/fired from their relatively high paying jobs.

It wasn't the story I thought it would be. I expected her to go through sev
Obscuranta Hideypants
Oct 02, 2007 Obscuranta Hideypants rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Revisionist die-hards
Shelves: readanddisliked
Ehrenreich posits that, no matter your education or previous track record of success in the white collar world, you are not assured of a stable economic future.

While her premise is correct, it is neither groundbreaking nor well-presented. Many of the sources cited in the book are 10 or more years old, indicating that the reality of the increasingly “downwardly mobile” economy is one with deep roots. Yet this work is surprisingly shallow in its views.

Undercover, trying to break into the corpora
Dec 13, 2007 Jessica rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: people who are curious about social economics
Why do I do this to myself? I feel this guilt that requires me to finish a book, even when doing so makes my blood pressure skyrocket. I wasn't a big fan of Nickel and Dimed, so why would I think it'd be any different when Ehrenreich is piously judging the middle class?

In short, the author "goes undercover" to try to land a middle class executive PR job, with a minimum salary of $50,000. She creates a somewhat fictitious resume - she has a background in "event planning" and was a PR consultant
Jul 11, 2015 Diana rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
"Barbara Ehrenreich is our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism." --Dorothy Gallagher, The New York Times Book Review

From the introduction:

"Stories of white-collar downward mobility cannot be brushed off as easily as accounts of blue-collar economic woes, which the hard-hearted traditionally blame on "bad choices": failing to get a college degree, for example, failing to postpone childbearing until acquiring a nest egg, or failing to choose affluent parents in the first place. But dis
Aug 30, 2007 Jenny rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
While I didn't agree with all of the points raised in Nickel & Dimed, I enjoyed it. I wish I could say the same for this book. Maybe I took things a bit too personally but working in public relations I was insulted that Barbara thinks she can easily step into a director's position in PR with a made up resume and absolutely no contacts in the industry. But she approaches every "adventure" in job searching with snobbish disdain. I agree that it's hard for people to find jobs in America and esp ...more
Clif Hostetler
Apr 01, 2010 Clif Hostetler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: current-events
Barbara Ehrenreich in this book explores the scary world of white collar unemployment and the “transition industry.” That is a euphemism for the business of helping white collar job seekers. It’s a world of job coaches, head hunters, job seminars, job seeker boot camps, job fairs, and Christian support groups for job seekers (some taking the opportunity to proselytize). She describes passing encounters with sham job offers that advertise “being your own boss” or “get rich quick.” At one point sh ...more
Dec 12, 2008 Valerie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: my students
Recommended to Valerie by: Dad
This book was frightening. I think every high school student should have to read part of it. The life coaches were particularly frightening. It seems especially appropriate right now.
Leo Walsh
Nov 08, 2014 Leo Walsh rated it really liked it
Not so certain why people reaect negatively to this book. Having been through the white-collar lay-off process (and I choose to say "lay off" instead of "in transition" since it is more honest), I have to agree with Ehrenreich. The advice given by career coaches is generally silly EST-like pop psychology. And by focusing on flaws in you -- appearance, body language, resume, etc -- we get distracted from the true costs that outsourcing has had on American culture.

The rich get richer, and the poo
Oct 09, 2011 Barbara rated it it was ok
I read this because Ehrenreich's earlier book, Nickel and Dimed, wasn't available from the library - but I thought a close examination of the issues of the US middle class would be equally interesting. Unfortunately, although that's the book Ehrenreich set out to write,it's not what this book turned out to be.
Ehrenreich started with the intention of a parallel structure to 'Nickle and Dimed' - she would masquerade as a unemployed white-collar PR professional, get corporate job, work there for se
Aug 12, 2008 Kelly rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was exasperating and sad. The author (who wrote Nickel and Dimed) goes undercover to research what it is like to be a white collar worker who loses his/her job and needs to find another one. It's funny sometimes to see how the corporate world lives and what it believes and the games that people play (use the correct buzz words, know the right people), but it also makes me so mad. Obtaining a good education and working hard are not enough. It was also interesting to see all the "coaches" out ...more
Kavita Ramesh
Oct 05, 2015 Kavita Ramesh rated it really liked it
This was one of the most depressing books I have ever read, and since it was meant to read that way, two thumbs up! ;)

I am SO glad I decided to avoid the rat race, because reading this book only emphasizes what I already knew -- a human-sized-rat-maze is no place to live your life. (UGH!)
Rachel Willis
Apr 28, 2009 Rachel Willis rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I read Nickel and Dimed when I was a low wage retail worker, so I thought it appropriate to read Bait and Switch now that I work in the corporate world. Although Ehrenreich doesn't accomplish what she set out to do (enter the corporate world as an employee), she offers a scary look at the nature of unemployment in the white collar world. However, I thought she spent a little too much time examining the world of 'career coaching' and not enough focusing on the plight of the unemployed white colla ...more
Feb 22, 2010 Noel rated it did not like it
Ehrenreich missed the mark with this book. She went out to try to nab a job in mid management with a fake resume and just never made it. She enlisted career advisors, and went to job fairs and spent tons of money with no results. The basic issue here is that she didn't have the 20 or so years of experience, of friends in the business and contacts in her trade to give her a boost. She spent a good part of the book being cynical about the many people and places she enlisted to help her in her sear ...more
Dan Schindel
Jan 15, 2016 Dan Schindel rated it liked it
This book is nearly 10 years old, but the sicknesses Ehrenreich diagnoses in American society have only worsened. She muses over whether increased unemployment might spur a stronger movement toward fair work conditions and health care in our country. Well, we've been through an economic crisis and lol not really. Ever-transitory, horrifyingly unstable job titles have only proliferated, to boot. It's damning and kind of hilarious that Ehrenreich starts out her experiment intending to "infiltrate" ...more
Elliot Ratzman
Jul 07, 2012 Elliot Ratzman rated it it was ok
Ehrenreich wrote one of the best books on economic insecurity—Fear of Falling—and then the book that single-handedly revived the genre of engaged experimental journalism Nickel and Dimed. Both were excellent works, as are her essays and op-eds. This follow-up to Nickel isn’t as strong, though it has some useful bits (on Christian networking events!) and her conclusions are wise, insightful and worth reading. She goes undercover as an unemployed white-collar worker experiencing the New Agey “Care ...more
Jul 31, 2011 Hilari rated it liked it
I gave this a 3 because it is well-written - I mean, the grammar is all correct and everything - and because I was compelled to finish it.

However, I feel that the "moral" of the story was somehow lost. If you are a middle-aged corporate executive, Ehrenreich's conclusion is "good luck! If I couldn't get a job, how on earth do you expect to?"

She worked with image consultants who were not essentially helpful. She attended marginal job fairs and conferences. Her networking was with the unemployed.
Jul 23, 2012 MisterFweem rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch a few times, and have had different reactions to it each time I finish it.

This time around I found Ehrenreich to be excessively negative, shrill, and smug as she details her account of searching for a white-collar job amid the snake oil salesmen of professional coaches, resume-tweakers, image specialists and others who prey upon those who are unemployed or seeking better employment.

When I read it back in 2006, I'd just come off a year of unemploymen
Apr 13, 2009 Nancy rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a book about the white-collared unemployed. I could relate to a lot of it at this point in my life. The author (who also wrote Nickled and Dimed about the working poor) goes “undercover” as a white-collar job seeker. She goes through various coaches, image consultants, seminars and networking experiences, but at the end of nine months, she is still without a job. “But there is something even more central than job security that white-collar corporate workers lack- and that is dignity…the ...more
Was expecting to like this one more than I actually did. I was a huge fan of Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed" and was excited to see what her take on the white collar, corporate culture would be like.

Much like "Nickel and Dimed", Ehrenreich went undercover, so to speak, and tried to infiltrate corporate America by joining job seekers for white collar professions or "executives in transition" as they seemed to so often label themselves. By starting at the beginning, so to speak, she would be able
Feb 24, 2013 Angela rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A seminal book about the shrinking middle class in which laid-off employees struggle to make ends meet through unemployment benefits, multilevel marketing schemes, contract work, and commission-only sales, none of which offers the stability and reliability of a regular paycheck, paid vacations, health and dental benefits, and a retirement plan.

Ehrenreich's one year journey to find an executive level job led her to four states, dozens of networking events, three career coaches, a personal makeove
Apr 05, 2008 Jonathan rated it did not like it
I didn't actually finish this book... i feel like i was bait and switched. I really liked nickel and dimed and now i understand why the back of the book is filled with praise for nickel and dimed. Sorry barbara, but i was almost halfway through and kept asking myself if this was going anywhere. The book seemed to only relay a message about the exploitive hacks, who themselves were barely not unemployed, that fill a niche market praying on desperately unemployed (and unconfident) people's hopes. ...more
May 07, 2013 Rachel rated it liked it
I admittedly had higher hopes for this book after having just read Nickel and Dimed, and I think the biggest downfall -- whether or not there was more Ehrenreich could have done about it -- was not actually ever landing a job in the "corporate sector." All the information she included about job fairs and career coaches and the online job searches was both illuminating (though not surprising) and soul-draining. Some of the organizations and personality tests seemed almost cult-like in the belief ...more
Aug 23, 2010 Allison rated it it was ok
It would have been a better book if she had just shadowed a handful of people in various situations to illustrate the strain of white collar workers in corporate America as well as the effects of downsizing on middle class families, etc. Instead, she was more focused on whether she could get a job and since she doesn't have corporate qualifications (and, in fact, used non-profits for most of her "experience"), of course she didn't find a job. Anybody who has ever worked in corporate and tried to ...more
Mar 21, 2013 Leila rated it it was amazing
The only thing wrong with this book is that I didn't write it. Instead, I decided to live it. Not a good move on my part.

Ehrenreich is one of my favorite non-fiction writers. A strong observer of our society's follies, foibles, and secret fallacies, she reflects the current scene with clever and astute narrations--and more good humor than we perhaps deserve. There is righteous indignation in this account, as well.

Going undercover as one of us lowly, ill-paid American workers, Ehrenreich explores
Jan 05, 2013 Jennifer rated it it was ok
I'd heard so many good things about journalist, political activist and author Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, an undercover foray into the Catch-22 of our nation's working poor, that I didn't think twice about picking up Bait and Switch. As someone who's spent most of her career working with or for Corporate America, I thought this tell-all about the underbelly of white-collar employment may enlighten me, or least be a truthful expression of my personal experience.

Unfortunately, her half-
Jun 08, 2013 Hannah rated it liked it
Alternately frustrating, funny, and depressing, Barbara Ehrenreich's unsuccessful pursuit of a white collar job in 2005 will leave you wondering how anyone ever gets, or keeps a job, and how anyone can get by.

What frustrated me was just how many scammers Barbara dealt with: job coaches, resume builders, etc. It felt like reading a book about financial responsibility in which the author spends most of her time sending checks to Nigerian princes.

But what else would the book have been? Snapshots o
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Barbara Ehrenreich is an American journalist and the bestselling author of sixteen previous books, including the bestsellers Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. A frequent contributor to Harpers and The Nation, she has also been a columnist at The New York Times and Time Magazine.
More about Barbara Ehrenreich...

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“This advice comes as a surprise: job searching is not joblessness; it is a job in itself and should be structured to resemble one, right down to the more regrettable features of employment, like having to follow orders--orders which are in this case self-generated.” 6 likes
“For all the talk about the need to be a likable "team player," many people work in a fairly cutthroat environment that would seem to be especially challenging to those who possess the recommended traits. Cheerfulness, upbeatness, and compliance: these are the qualities of subordinates -- of servants rather than masters, women (traditionally, anyway) rather than men. After advising his readers to overcome the bitterness and negativity engendered by frequent job loss and to achieve a perpetually sunny outlook, management guru Harvey Mackay notes cryptically that "the nicest, most loyal, and most submissive employees are often the easiest people to fire." Given the turmoil in the corporate world, the prescriptions of niceness ring of lambs-to-the-slaughter.” 6 likes
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