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


The bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed goes back undercover to do for America’s ailing middle class what she did for the working poor.

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 shadowy world of the white-collar unemployed. Armed with a plausible résumé of a professional “in transition,” she attempts to land a middle-class job — undergoing career coaching and personality testing, then trawling a series of EST-like boot camps, job fairs, networking events, and evangelical job-search ministries. She gets an image makeover, works to project a winning attitude, yet 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 résumés — yet have become repeatedly vulnerable to financial disaster, and not simply due to the vagaries of the business cycle. Today’s ultra-lean corporations take pride in shedding their “surplus” employees — plunging them, for months or years at a stretch, into the twilight zone of white-collar unemployment, where job searching becomes a full-time job in itself. As Ehrenreich discovers, there are few social supports for these newly disposable workers — and little security even for those who have jobs.

Like the now classic Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch is alternately hilarious and tragic, a searing exposé of economic cruelty where we least expect it.

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