Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich

Please note: Bait and Switch is published by Metropolitan Books, a division of Henry Holt and Company, probably noone's idea of a small press, but I read it and felt a need to write about it, and I am the boss in this little corner of the blog universe. So here goes.

I read the Barbara Ehrenreich book Bait and Switch today, and I am afraid I have no good news to report. I have to admit I went in with a bias, having not really enjoyed the tone of her previous work, Nickel and Dimed, but having read plenty of other articles written by Ehrenreich that I did enjoy. And I was feeling crappy so I took a sick day today, which always makes me cranky thinking about my lost productivity for the week. But since this article online states that B.E. has "never embraced objectivity," why should I?

OK, so, if B.E. were trying to write an indictment of the career coach-job fair-job board-"networking" industry, she did a great job. But she doesn't stop there; she tries to sort of accuse corporate America, or maybe just America in general, of something sinister, I am not sure what. As in Nickel and Dimed, she goes "undercover" with a faked resume, this time trying to get a "white collar" job. I wouldn't expect someone with a faked resume to be able to get a job that she is ultimately trying for (and she doesn't.). She starts out saying she has done a bunch of PR consulting and wants to get a job in the 50K range, which seems doable, but then she goes off the deep end and starts telling people she wants to be an "executive" and make 100K+ a year, applying for jobs as "PR Director" for major pharmaceutical firms and so forth. This from a woman who has never had a full time job, according to her own (faked) resume; even in real life Ehrenreich, who makes a living as a freelance writer, does not have the experience or expertise to be applying for these type of jobs.

But because corporate failure is what she expected to find, she somehow takes the months of failure and humilation as some kind of indictment against a corporate system of some kind. She takes everything she learns from the job hunt industry and extrapolates it onto "corporate America," making a lot of bold pronouncements and calls to action. Some of her ideas, like not having health care tied to one's job, are good ones, and deserve a lot more time in print than they get here -- not to mention the courtesy of being framed by a tighter argument, as the book's central argument, like the argument in Nickle and Dimed, is inherently weak because of Ehrenreich's naivete about the subject matter, her overreliance on anecdotal evidence, and her dogged committment to her predetermined thesis, which she in no way proved. The narcissism of this kind of approach ends up obfuscating the original, noble, purpose of the project.

Oh, and something really sadly ironic . . . Barbara Ehrenreich, the great champion of the working class we are to remember from Nickel and Dimed, has this whole section in her introduction (echoed in her conclusion) in which she talks, without a trace of irony, about people who lost their high paying jobs and are now "reduced . . . to working as a sales associate at the Gap" or "brought low . . . forced to serve behind the counter at Starbucks." No doubt these are noone's ideal jobs, but it seems that B.E., who has just pages earlier painted herself as a champion of the working class (which the book jacket does for us as well), would have a little more tact than to demean those upon whose storied broken backs her last book undoubtedly paid the bills so she didn't have to demean herself by making lattes or selling khaki pants herself. So please, Barbie, call yourself a humorist, but please stop calling yourself an activist.

This book did have one, no doubt unintended, consequence for me, the humble reader, a newly minted member of the middle class. Listening to B.E. and her compatriots' fruitless job searches brought back all the anxiety and depression that I experienced last fall going through my own humble non-executive career transition from sub-academic underling to "administrative specialist," which made me appreciate my current corporate job and my $18.88 an hour plus benefits all year round for me AND my free-spirited husband all the more. So B.E. did not do her job in the least. And now I feel like I may never call in sick again.

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