I get through my days knowing that I am earning my college degree and
heep in mind that these managers who have the power to tell me what to
do today will potentially be working for me after I graduate and obtain
a job they could never have with their level of education and lack of
”Karen,” retail worker/student
In Bait and Switch, Barbara Ehrenreich investigates life as an unemployed white-collar worker by going “undercover,” adopting the identity of a professional writer and public relations specialist looking for work. To do the research for the book, Ehrenreich created a new identity, “Barbara Alexander,” drew on the skills and experience she had built in her own “real” career, and marketed herself as a public relations person and event planner. Bait and Switch manages to convey some sense of the quietly desperate lives of the tens of millions of people who have white-collar occupations but find themselves in a relatively continuous job search. They are either employed and looking for work because they fear losing their jobs, partially employed as contract workers or in part-time positions with little security and no benefits, employed as temp workers or in retail simply to make ends meet, or fully unemployed.
Because this state of semiemployment is a common predicament in the current American economy, a historically low unemployment rate paints a very distorted picture. Data compiled to calculate the unemployment rate counts only those who are willing to work but have not found any job at all as “unemployed.” Much of the real story of employment in this economy is therefore left out. The unemployment rate does not track those who are working part-time or in any job they can find, nor does it track those who have stopped looking for work altogether. In addition to an unemployment rate, the Economic Policy Institute offers an “underemployment rate” as a more accurate indicator of what is happening in this layoff-dependent, more fully casualized economy. The underemployment rate accounts for those who are working part time but want full-time work, those who have stopped looking for work