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Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream    by Barbara Ehrenreich order for
Bait and Switch
by Barbara Ehrenreich
Order:  USA  Can
Metropolitan, 2005 (2005)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

Bait and Switch chronicles one woman's search for a professional position in public relations. For journalistic purposes, the author (who is not a public relations expert) went undercover, devoting most of a year trying to land employment in this field. She used her maiden name, and did not reveal her true identity to potential employers. On her job search, she hired resumé coaches and image consultants, attended numerous networking events and job fairs, and sent out countless resumés, to no avail.

There is a whole transition industry out there: people whose business it is to help others who are in transition, between jobs, or, to put it bluntly, unemployed. Ehrenreich also explores a phenomenon called underemployment, in which people end up working jobs for which they are severely overqualified. In fact, the author informs us that job seekers in white-collar industries often end up as blue-collar employees.

While well-written, Bait and Switch was not nearly as interesting to read as Ehrenreich's previous book in which she went undercover and worked as a blue collar employee in several different occupations. Nickel and Dimed was more authentic: the author worked as a waitress, a maid and a Walmart employee, and lived on a budget based on her actual earnings from these jobs. The experiment performed by Ehrenreich for this book was flawed in that her resumé was exaggerated and she was not able to utilize her real contacts for networking purposes as she might have done had her job search been legitimate. She is also concerned that some of her difficulty in securing employment could be due to her age. These considerations should be factored in by anyone actually engaged in a job search for a professional level job.

Regardless, Ehrenreich was able to form some grim conclusions about job seeking in the white-collar world, and about the economy in general. How the job process is demeaning and dehumanizing. How the unemployed are often targeted as victims of their own circumstances. How being unemployed is a black mark, even if you are choosing to stay home and raise children. Overall, Bait and Switch was interesting, but I would have found it more enlightening had its author interviewed real people who were engaged in real life job searches.

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