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

Barbara Ehrenreich

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

272 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy

A Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year

The bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed goes back undercover to do for America's ailing middle class what she did for the working poor.

Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed explored the lives of low-wage workers. Now, in Bait and Switch, she enters another hidden realm of the economy: the shadowy world of the white-collar unemployed. Armed with a plausible résumé of a professional "in transition," she attempts to land a middle-class job—undergoing career coaching and personality testing, then trawling a series of EST-like boot camps, job fairs, networking events, and evangelical job-search ministries. She gets an image makeover, works to project a winning attitude, yet is proselytized, scammed, lectured, and—again and again—rejected.

Bait and Switch highlights the people who've done everything right—gotten college degrees, developed marketable skills, and built up impressive résumés—yet have become repeatedly vulnerable to financial disaster, and not simply due to the vagaries of the business cycle. Today's ultra-lean corporations take pride in shedding their "surplus" employees—plunging them, for months or years at a stretch, into the twilight zone of white-collar unemployment, where job searching becomes a full-time job in itself. As Ehrenreich discovers, there are few social supports for these newly disposable workers—and little security even for those who have jobs.


Praise for Bait and Switch

"Ehrenreich's acerbic critiques are devastating . . . She does a superb job of focusing the spotlight on a nether world of those without jobs or those profoundly shaken by their inability to find economic security."—The Charlotte Observer

"What Ehrenreich has found is something that can't be gleaned from reams of data about levels of middle-class income and unemployment."—Columbia Journalism Review

"Bait and Switch . . . resembles a novel by Evelyn Waugh, in which a middle-aged social critic with supersonic verbal skills, a Voltaire pretending to be a Candide, disappears into a zombie zone of career counselors, résumé writers, networking and job fairs."—Harper's Magazine

"A worthy companion to Nickel and Dimed . . . The new book provides a victim's-eye view of the world of unemployed white-collar workers—people struggling, mostly in vain, to recoup the high wages and prestige they lost after being dismissed from the not-so-secure confines of corporate America . . . Like the now classic Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch is alternately hilarious and tragic, a searing exposé of economic cruelty where we least expect it."—The Washington Post Book World

"Ehrenreich is particularly acerbic and astute in her analysis of the cult of job seeking. She resents that the onus of unemployment is placed on the individual, as though a positive attitude alone can overcome the pressures of downsizing, outsourcing, and other global economic trends. Being Ehrenreich, she instead longs for rebellion, for the unemployed and underemployed to mount a push for better jobless benefits and guaranteed health insurance. But she knows that such a movement will require a transformation more profound than any career coach envisions, 'from solitary desperation to collection action.'"—Julie M. Klein, Mother Jones

"[Ehrenreich] offers a realistic, sometimes despairing perspective on the corporate world and a job hunter's travails. The statistics are revealing: 20 percent of the unemployed today are professionals. Ehrenreich's own story involves a 10-month job search with $5,000 in funds under her maiden name. She endured so-called coaches, networking events, Web sites, even job fairs in the hunt for employment, taking a barrage of personality tests (Myers Briggs, Enneagram) and often suffering fools gladly. The result was two sales-position offers without benefits or salary. Her conclusions are harsh, perhaps atypical for many, yet she tempers the realities with clear-cut recommendations for change. Anticipate a waiting list for this title."—Booklist

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt


Because I've written a lot about poverty, I'm used to hearing from people in scary circumstances. An eviction notice has arrived. A child has been diagnosed with a serious illness and the health insurance has run out. The...

Read the full excerpt



  • Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich--Audiobook Excerpt

    Listen to this audiobook excerpt from Barbara Ehrenreich's book Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. The bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed goes back undercover to do for America's ailing middle class what she did for the working poor, and enters the world of the white-collar unemployed.



  • Barbara Ehrenreich

  • Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of fourteen books, including Dancing in the Streets and The New York Times bestsellers Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. A frequent contributor to Harper's and The Nation, she has also been a columnist at The New York Times and Time magazine.

  • Barbara Ehrenreich Sigrid Estrada
    Barbara Ehrenreich




Download PDF



Go to website


Sign Up


Reading Group Guide