Bait and Switch | Barbara Ehrenreich

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


In ‘Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream’, author Barbara Ehrenreich delves deep into the world of white-collar unemployment, analyzing the various challenges faced by today’s professionals, particularly those based in the United States. This book highlights the crucial factors that threaten job security even as stock market prices climb higher and companies continue to make profits. Themes such as corporate practices, failed job search strategies, and the struggle of educated workers trying to find work play a key role in this narrative. Within these pages, you’ll learn about Ehrenreich’s undercover journey, where she goes on a year-long mission to find a white-collar corporate job, encountering numerous barriers in the process.

White-Collar Unemployment

Investigative reporter Barbara Ehrenreich delves into the growing phenomenon of white-collar unemployment in her book. While traditional blue-collar jobs have been most affected in past economic downturns, layoffs and downsizing now threaten every employee, including those in white-collar positions. Contrary to the belief that white-collar unemployment results from a company’s economic performance, many corporations continue to lay off employees despite rising stock market prices and profits. Barbara Ehrenreich goes undercover to examine this situation firsthand, using a fake résumé to seek a public relations position. She sets a budget of 10 months and $5,000 to explore every avenue possible and expand her job search beyond her local area, eventually accepting a job that meets her minimum needs. In books, coaching sessions, and networking events targeting white-collar job seekers, ideologies that are hostile to any larger, social understanding of their situation prevail. As job security becomes a thing of the past, Barbara Ehrenreich’s exploration of white-collar unemployment offers valuable insight.

The Transition Industry

Job searching in the internet era has become a complex and confusing process, leading many people to seek help from self-proclaimed “career coaches” who lack credentials and oversight. Ehrenreich explores her experiences with three different coaches, each offering their own methods and advice. Morton used a personality test to guide Ehrenreich towards employment that fit her character but lacked scientific backing. Kimberly encouraged her to see herself as a brand and offered costly coaching to boost her confidence. Joanne, a résumé expert, advised her on crafting a polished résumé using buzzwords and jargon. The book highlights the inexcusable cruelty of blaming individuals for their own job struggles and exposes the pitfalls of the transition industry.

Networking and Job Search Challenges

Unemployed individuals were advised to network with everyone, but Ehrenreich’s attempt at the Forty-Plus Club resulted in lukewarm responses. A career coach discussed job-search and resume challenges such as hiding unemployment gaps. Ehrenreich realized that being unemployed is a real obstacle to finding work. Despite Kimberly’s skepticism, Ehrenreich continued to work on her resume.

Executive Boot Camp

Ehrenreich attends an executive boot camp hosted by ExecuTable aimed at boosting participants’ ‘personal sense of well-being’. The seminar is hosted by career coach Patrick Knowles and is attended by participants who are looking to improve their job prospects. Knowles claims that personal determination and self-improvement can fix any problem with being jobless. However, Ehrenreich is concerned about her age and fitting the corporate mold and is offered useless advice. She notes that being unemployed may in itself disqualify someone for a job and questions the typical coaching dictum that determination beats any obstacle. Self-help books, job websites, and coaches often dismiss the economy, corporate hiring cuts, and job cutbacks, providing victims with a blame-the-victim message.

Job Hunting Woes

A job seeker, despite her efforts to network and seek professional help, struggles to land an interview. She spends $1,000 on an Image Management consultancy firm in Atlanta that advises her on her “type” and appearance, but it yields no results.

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