BAIT AND SWITCH

The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream

Barbara Ehrenreich

In 1998, journalist Barbara Ehrenreich became a waitress, a maid, and a low level sales clerk while researching Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Selling close to one million copies, Nickel and Dimed exposed the truth about the demise of a living wage, health insurance, and other presumed rewards for American workers. In Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, she goes undercover once again, this time to explore the grim results of corporate downsizing. Immersed in the world of the white-collar unemployed, she joins the ranks of those who seem to have done everything right—finished college,

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In 1998, journalist Barbara Ehrenreich became a waitress, a maid, and a low level sales clerk while researching Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Selling close to one million copies, Nickel and Dimed exposed the truth about the demise of a living wage, health insurance, and other presumed rewards for American workers. In Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, she goes undercover once again, this time to explore the grim results of corporate downsizing. Immersed in the world of the white-collar unemployed, she joins the ranks of those who seem to have done everything right—finished college, gained professional experience, honed an impressive resume—yet cannot land a steady job in corporate America. Written with hilarious candor, impeccable research, and clear-eyed respect for the faces behind the statistics, Bait and Switch exposes the untold cruelties of today’s economy.

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  • Metropolitan Books
  • Hardcover
  • September 2005
  • 256 Pages
  • 9780805076066

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About Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestsellers Nickel and Dimed and The Worst Years of Our Lives, as well as Blood Rites and Fear of Falling, which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. A frequent contributor to Harper’s Magazine and The Nation, she has been a columnist for The New York Times and Time. She lives in Virginia.

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Discussion Questions

Discuss your own career path. How has corporate downsizing, reorgan­izing or outsourcing affected your life?

Ehrenreich recalls her father’s experience climbing the corporate ladder in the 50s and 60s. He was loyal to his company, and it in turn was loyal to him. Would this be a reasonable expectation today? How have cor­porations changed in the way they treat their employees over the last generation?

Throughout her job search, Ehrenreich is struck by the constant advice to adopt a “positive attitude” no matter what you’re going through as an unemployed person. Do you think this is a good psychological strat­egy? Or do we pay a price for constantly concealing anger and sadness under a happy face?

In chapter three, “Surviving Boot Camp,” Ehrenreich’s coach insists that we only have ourselves to blame for whatever happens to us in life. How widespread do you think this idea is in our culture? Would you call it “victim blaming” or a correct assessment of one’s personal responsibility? What do you think is the effect of this idea on people struggling with unemployment?

Chapter five, “Networking with the Lord,” describes the evangelical Christian groups Ehrenreich stumbled onto in her quest for employ­ment. Was she right to be critical of their proselytizing? What role, if any, should religion play in a secular workplace?

Discuss the gender and racial dimensions of job searching. Do you think Ehrenreich’s experience would have been different if she had been male, or a person of color?

Discuss the book’s title. What are college-educated young Americans being lured into? If a college education—even in a business major—no longer offers occupational security, how should young people think about their careers?

What were your thoughts as you finished reading Bait and Switch? Is there any action you can take to reverse the trend toward greater job insecurity? Do you predict that legislation will ever be passed limiting a corporation’s ability to lay people off at will or outsource jobs overseas?  Can the compendation gap between CEOs and other employees keep expanding indefinitely?