Friday, May 4, 2012

Review: Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream by Barbara Ehrenreich

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Barbara Ehrenreich is best known for her Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. I haven't read that book, but the notion of feeling lied to after getting a college degree and doing everything "right" hits close to home, so I was wondering about her take on it.

In the book, Ehrenreich sets out to join corporate America, with a doctored résumé and references willing to lie for her. She calls her current experience "consulting," and touts some real skills she possesses. Ehrenreich is certainly a clever woman, able to write speeches and put facts together and present herself as outgoing and professionally put together.

And yet, the book never gets past the job search process. The only interviews she gains are for sales jobs with no job security, no benefits, and no salary. She finds the job search frustratingly faceless, and manages to learn a few things about the disposable nature of white collar workers through her fellow job seekers.

I couldn't help but think about the Occupy protests while I was listening to this on audio. The very notions they bring to the forefront, about a few rich people benefiting from taking advantage of those who work hard and put in long hours, are highlighted well in this book. Ehrenreich proposes that the very job search process, the exhortations to stay positive and present a nice, nonthreatening demeanor, serves to undercut any discussion amongst those treated worst by the system to organize or talk amongst themselves about the injustices they've faced.

I would advise strongly against using Ehrenreich's actions as a guide in how to search for a job, if you were thinking of picking up the book for that. While she does try a lot of strategies, with no success, and admits several avenues she doesn't try, there are plenty of how-to books on the market that won't frustrate you.

I mentioned above that I listened to this on audio. There isn't much to say about the narrator, Anne Twomey, except that she was clear, and her delivery was crisp. She was a good choice to narrate this book.

Overall, Ehrenreich didn't tell me a lot I don't already know, but it was illuminating to read my observations in an organized and fact-based way. While I don't think this book sparked the Occupy movement all by itself, I do think it contributed to a climate where job seekers are finally able to articulate that it's not them, it's the corporations.

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