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

Barbara Ehrenreich

After hitting the bestsellers’ list with Nickel and Dimed, the social experiment/book in which Barbara Ehrenreich spent a few months cleaning houses, waitressing and working at Wal-Mart, she got some unexpected hate mail: readers from higher classes pissed she’d focused on minimum-wage earners when the “real” crisis is with college-educated professionals who “did everything right” and still can’t land a job paying more than $50,000 a year. That figure should be the first sign that Bait and Switch won’t pull the same poignancy as its predecessor. In this contrived followup, Ehrenreich goes through the motions of preparing herself, with the help of career coaches, image consultants and networking conferences, for a job in corporate PR. As she struggles to see the premise through, Ehrenreich spends much of the book bashing hotel rooms, people’s grammar, food, clothing, Mary Kay cosmetics and Atlanta, the city she’d chosen for her job search. Anecdotes from her fellow job-seekers form the most interesting part of this mean-spirited tome. Ehrenreich’s tone is relentlessly superior, and in the end she seems as baffled by the corporate culture as she was by that of the lower-class wage earner.