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

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  4,730 ratings  ·  586 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.

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Paperback, 272 pages
Published July 25th 2006 by Holt McDougal (first published August 19th 2005)
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Jan 25, 2010 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
Jun 05, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 05, 2012 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
Jul 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
"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 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 especia ...more
Obscuranta Hideypants
Oct 02, 2007 rated it did not like it
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
Nov 22, 2007 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
Nadine Dajani
Apr 13, 2013 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
Nov 17, 2007 rated it did not like it
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
May 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I had originally intended on writing my master's thesis on the futility of the American Dream in an era of economic uncertainty (this was a couple years before the Great Recession) and picked this book up in the process of conducting research. I cite many of the studies referenced in the book often. Barbara Ehrenreich is a terrific writer - she makes my blood boil simply by explaining the basic workings of our socio-economic system and makes me laugh a few paragraphs later. This is not as good a ...more
Clif Hostetler
Mar 29, 2010 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
Aug 25, 2017 rated it did not like it
According to the book’s introduction, Ehrenreich decided to investigate the claim that white collar, mid-level employees were exploited by their employers and the corporate culture. As she did with entry level work in Nickeled and Dimed, she set out to infiltrate this world as an undercover journalist by getting this type of job. However, with a falsified resume designed to hide her identity, she spends the entire book in the job search process. The tone of this book is not that of an objective ...more
Dec 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 09, 2013 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
Feb 04, 2010 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
Aug 12, 2008 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
Jenn "JR"
Feb 08, 2010 rated it it was ok
While the previous book, "Nickel & Dimed", was revelatory and more significant piece of journalism, I can't say the same thing for "Bait and Switch." In pursuing her next book - she decides to pick a profession she knows little about and FAKE IT. She thinks so little of the corporate world that she thinks that they won't be able to tell. And then - she proceeds to pursue a whole lot of worthless job searching techniques that most unemployed people don't find useful.

On top of that - even as an At
Jean Kelly
Apr 24, 2018 rated it liked it
journalist who went 'undercover' to see what life is like for white collar folks who find themselves out of work and searching. A sad reflection of the change from corporations that values long time employees and treated them 'as family' to the reality of business today. ...more
Oct 05, 2011 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
Rachel Willis
Apr 26, 2009 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
Jun 15, 2008 rated it did not like it
This was boring and useless, hours of my life that I'll never have back again. ...more
C. Scott
Aug 25, 2014 rated it liked it
This lesser companion piece to Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed" can only be described as a book-length exercise in turning lemons into lemonade. Her intent was to go undercover as she did in her other book but sadly didn't get very far.

I feel like this book itself was a bit of a bait and switch because the cover seems to indicate that the author is going to uncover some truths about modern corporate culture. However the book turns out to be an extended job hunting narrative and an incomplete inte
Dec 31, 2009 rated it did not like it
Ugh. This book was a whole lot of nothing. She did not take the project seriously or make a proper effort at getting a middle class sort of a job. To top it off, her tone was extremely smug. For someone clueless, she had no right to think she had it all figured out. It wasn't until the very end of her project, when I'm sure the book was due to her publishers, that she realized she may have made some serious mistakes along the way. I wish she'd started all over at that point and tried again and j ...more
Aug 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a dated but very hilarious book. Hearing about the poseurs who claim they will help you get a new job while blaming it all on you is pretty accurate and funny. I do disagree with her lumping est into the happy-talk self-empowerment groups. I did the est training six or seven times and got great value out of it each time. But there were lots of people that ripped off est that I think were the ones she encountered. Tell the truth; keep your agreements: Those are the most salient principles ...more
Marsha Raasch
Oct 08, 2022 rated it liked it
This book was depressing. Not because of the masterfully crafted style of Ehrenreich, who weaves statistics, anecdotes and personal experience so seamlessly that a bleak landscape of early 2000s corporate life is readable. But because despite the 2 decades from her writing to this reading, I remember this culture and it's beige toxic positivity and enforced extroversion. The economic instability of the past 20 years and especially the Covid pandemic have shaken up the tired old structure and for ...more
Pat Herndon
Sep 11, 2022 rated it it was amazing
In honor of Ehrenreich’s passing, I decided to read one more of her books. I can think of no author who physically immersed herself into the realities associated with her topic than her. In this book she sets outs to get a front line view of work in white collar America. What she really explores is what is the reality of mid-life unemployment for white collar workers displaced from their jobs as corporations downsize, right-size and neglect any responsibility to society in regards to stable empl ...more
Oct 15, 2022 rated it really liked it
As usual, Barbara Ehrenreich is a mordant observer of the socio-political environment she is investigating. I'd highly recommend if you want to hear corporate consultancy pseudo-social science being called out. ...more
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was a funny read about the humiliations of job seeking and the sometimes ridiculousness corporate trainers, professional resume writers, and corporate America at large.
May 03, 2013 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
Feb 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
For fans of Barbara Ehrenreich, this book is essentially a continuation of what she did in Nickel and Dimed. This time, instead of investigating the lower rungs of the minimum wage worker, she explores the world of the middle-class white- collar unemployed. As it turns out, the educated middle-class is increasingly being pushed downward to “survival jobs,” as outlined in Nickel and Dimed. People were “baited” into the idea that if you went to college you’d get a good job: you’re “set.” The “swit ...more
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Barbara Ehrenreich was 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.

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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.” 9 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.” 7 likes
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