Bait and Switch

by Barbara Ehrenreich Non-fiction

  • Metropolitan Books (2005, 272 pages)
  • UK Granta

The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream

Americans’ working lives are growing more precarious every day. Corporations slash employees by the thousands, and the benefits and pensions once guaranteed by “middle-class” jobs are a thing of the past.


In Bait and Switch, Barbara Ehrenreich goes back undercover to explore another hidden realm of the economy: the shadowy world of the white-collar unemployed. Armed with the plausible résumé of a professional “in transition,” she attempts to land a “middle-class” job. She submits to career coaching, personality testing, and EST-like boot camps, and attends job fairs, networking events, and evangelical job-search ministries. She is proselytized, scammed, lectured, and—again and again—rejected.

Bait and Switch highlights the people who have done everything right—gotten college degrees, developed marketable skills, and built up impressive résumés—yet have become repeatedly vulnerable to financial disaster. There are few social supports for these newly disposable workers, Ehrenreich discovers, and little security even for those who have jobs. Worst of all, there is no honest reckoning with the inevitable consequences of the harsh new economy; rather, the jobless are persuaded that they have only themselves to blame.

Alternately hilarious and tragic, Bait and Switch, like the classic Nickel and Dimed, is a searing exposé of the cruel new reality in which we all now live.
Bait and Switch US paperback cover
Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch is a worthy companion to Nickel and Dimed, her engaging and infuriating 2001 exposé of the hard lives of working-class Americans.

The Washington Post

We have Barbara Ehrenreich to thank for bringing us the news of America’s working poor so clearly and directly, and
conveying with it a deep moral outrage . . . She is our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism.

New York Times

Her conclusions are harsh, perhaps atypical for many, yet she tempers the realities with clear-cut recommendations for change.

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