I have lately been reading and reviewing a lot of science fiction as you know. For some reason, my brain demanded something of a bit more substance. I stopped three discs into Pendragon Number 8 and have no real burning desire right now to return to that fantasy world.
To that end, my 27th book is Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich. Mr. Ehrenreich who Is famous for her investigative journalism in the bestselling Nickel and Dimed, in which the college-educated Ehrenreich attempts to succeeded and survive in working-class jobs such as a cleaning agency worker, Wal-Mart associate, and a Home Depot worker.
In this volume, she attempts to enter corporate America in the early 2000s. She hoped to document white-collar downward mobility, focusing on people who “put aside passions such as philosophy and music” in order to enter the more safe and practical world of corporate America. These were people who made all the right choices, at least according to modern society. Yet, they were individuals who were frequently stressed and suffering more and more injuries due to sitting at their desks for long hours. Often, they were not given “the choice to have a home life” as cell phones and email connected them in the office even on vacation and off hours.
Ms. Ehrenreich created the alternate identity of Barbara Alexander by merely reverting back to her maiden name,opening a bank account, and changing the messages on her home and cell answering machines. For the purpose of the experiment, she decided to take any job offer which met her requirements, of which there were only three: a salary of $50,000 per year, an office space, and healthcare. She set aside $5,000 to fund the beginning of the experiment and expected to make the money back in short order when she was employed. But this was not to be the case.
After seven months, she still hadn’t found an acceptable job and had spent $6,000, $1,000 more than she budgeted for the project. Like many, especially among the 50+ crowd of which Ms. Ehrenreich is a member, no one wanted her despite her experience. She was offered a commission only job at both Aflac and Mary Kay. The Aflac job required her to spend $1,900 up front with no guarantee of return on investment. While the Mary Kay job didn’t require her to spend anything up front, this was not recommended as a course of action because according to her Mary Kay advisor, “Women don’t like to wait for their lipstick.”
According to sociologist Peter M. Berkland, this sort of quasi-employment in which all workers are independent contractors and thereby cost-fare employers receiving no health benefits or even office space is responsible for a third of the gross domestic product (GDP). But this is not good for workers. Mr. Berkland reports that 86% of realtors and 25% of franchisees fail in the first year. The cost of setting up these operations ranges from $15-40,000, while the average person earns a salary of only $30,000 yearly. That means you won’t make a profit until your second year of business. Good luck paying your rent. In commission only work, the statistics are even more dire. Half of the people involved in this work earn less than $10,000 per year and only 8% earn over $50,000.
But as Ms. Ehrenreich says, there is “always a job for the swift and the desperate.” Many people are taking jobs much lower than their educational level. In her book, these are referred to as “survival jobs.” Mr. Ehrenreich also takes issue with the way unemployment rates are calculated. Apparently, you are only considered unemployed if you are working part-time involuntarily, not if you are not using your skill set.
I can no more encapsulate Barbara Ehrenreich’s humorous take on depressing topic. Then I can pretend to be Langston Hughes. If you want a true sense of her sense of humor, read her book after you read this review. One thing she did give me and maybe a lot of other artistic types, too, is the knowledge that corporate life is not as secure as parents and friends of more practical professions make it out to be. We may be poor, but at least we’re happy. I think I’ll send my mother a copy of this book.
I rate this book an 8.5 out of 10. I liked it, but not as much as Nickel and Dimed. This may be due to the fact that she didn’t do a day’s work for anyone, whereas in Nickel and Dimed she actually experienced what working-class people go through. Still, it’s a very funny book and the reader learns a lot. In the end I realized that like the author, when it comes to corporate America, I am glad to be “independent of it for my income and self-esteem.”