Bookmarks Issue: 

The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream

A-BaitSwitchReverting to her maiden name for cover, Barbara "Alexander," the best-selling author of Nickel and Dimed (2001), about the working class, built a resume from scratch and set out to find a middle-class job. Even with a cadre of career consultants, résumé specialists, and Christian networking groups goading her to stay positive, the author received only two job offers, both well below her aspirations and without benefits. Ehrenreich chronicles the disorientation felt by members of the suddenly stagnant middle class, who clutch their college degrees and professional experience but are assured of nothing but another day of job-hunting.
Metropolitan Books. 256 pages. $24. ISBN: 0805076069

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The strengths of Bait and Switch—and they are considerable—lie less in Ehrenreich’s prescriptions or formal analyses of economic problems than in her casual if usually astute observations and her caustic and thought-provoking critiques." Eric Arnesen

Newsday 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Ehrenreich seems, at heart, a pretty old-fashioned kind of socialist: She thinks people can and should improve their lot by collective action. When working people let themselves be doormats, or embrace the role of victim, or cling to the more bogus fantasies of individual success, it hurts everyone." Scott McLemee

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Bait and Switch is a cautionary tale about the disposability of all American working people—not just those whose parents couldn’t send them to the right schools or who didn’t earn high grades or whose bad youthful choices (teenage parenthood, juvenile crime) barred them from the middle class." Marcellus Andrews

Baltimore Sun 3.5 of 5 Stars
"American workers a generation ago didn’t pine for a long-distant era, wishing they would be toiling away in an Andrew Carnegie sweatshop, while many today do long for the expectations of the workplace long ago: corporate missions that seemed strong and tangible, devotion between employer and employee, secure pension plans. Certainty perished." Andrew Ratner

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"For the last 30 years, Ehrenreich has insisted that when workers think only to save themselves and push economic pain onto others, we all lose together. And then she’s gone and tallied up the costs of our failure to learn this simple lesson. . . . [I]t’s an honorable addition to an essential body of work. We need her lonely, eloquent voice, but more than this, we need others to join in and many more to begin heeding it." Wesley Yang

Critical Summary

Where the stories that comprised Nickel and Dimed provoked visceral reactions from critics, here the uniform praise for Bait and Switch strikes a more contemplative tone—maybe because Ehrenreich, a freelance journalist who contributes to The New York Times, Harper’s, and The Progressive, is too close to critics’ economic sphere for comfort. Though her conclusion, that white and blue collar workers should join forces and affect economic change, strikes many reviewers as hopelessly utopian, a few glumly concede that only idealistic energy can reverse the trend.