Book Report: Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich (2005)

Book coverYou probably don’t know, gentle reader, that I read Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America around 2003 (my beautiful wife read it and sort of fisked it in two parts, Nickels and Dimes, about the same time). It’s before I was doing book reports on this blog, so you’ll have to take my word for it. The premise of that book is that Ehrenreich beams herself into communities and works for minimum or low wage jobs there and tries to lead a life on low wages.

In this book, she decides she’s going to do the same with white collar jobs in Corporate America, so she mocks up a resume and hopes to catch onto a series of middle management sorts of jobs not so much to see if she can survive on $60,000-80,000 a year, but to take the pulse of the middle class who must be also terribly frightened of losing their livelihoods. That’s the plan, anyway.

However, she finds it hard to get a job with her faked-up resume as an independent PR consultant looking for a full time job in corporate America at an advanced salary. So the book instead turns into an indictment of career coaches, job fairs, the Christers (of course), and networking events in general. She tries many different avenues of meeting people who would hire someone like her, but she doesn’t get job offers until she starts hitting the bottom feeders of commission-only sales jobs and pushing Mary Kay.

Basically, she spends 230+ pages LARPing G.J. Meyer of Executive Blues: Down and Out in Corporate America, but without the actual experience of being a corporate professional at all. Apparently, she has read that book, as she includes it in the footnotes a couple of times.

The book doesn’t provide any insight into anything much about anything except Barbara’s inauthentic attempts to be middle class and out of work. I mean, she chooses a profession (PR) that easily sheds experienced workers and hires English and communication majors right out of college. I mean, they’re down to Content Writers now with a going rate of blog posts for $20 each.

She does mention in her conclusion that someone in her fake career would have had a Rolodex full of contacts to reach out to after, you know, actually getting the fake experience she had on her resume. So perhaps, at the end, she recognizes the flaw in her premise. But she wrote the book anyway.

And I read it anyway.

Nickel and Dimed didn’t really match the experience I had with being poor or working entry level jobs. This book certainly doesn’t match being middle class and white collar or being white class and between jobs (as an actual consultant, I’ve been between jobs from time to time). I wonder if she’s not writing these books for people who have experienced these things, but rather for an audience of older Manhattanite women who wonder what it might be like and who might believe it’s anything like an Ehrenreich book.

But, on the plus side, I am at 80% completion of the books I bought at Calvin’s Books in May (and reading all five from that trip is one of my goals for the year).

And, as a means of comparison, this book did not make me as angry as Into the Wild. I didn’t swear at it nearly as much, although I might have flipped it off a time or two and might have said dumb bint a couple of times. I didn’t even hate it as much as Nickel and Dimed, but that might be because I’m mellowing. But Ehrenreich remains a curse word in the Noggle home in a way that Krakauer or whatever that kid’s name was will never be.

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