Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bait and switch.

One thing I liked about Barbara Ehrenreich's new book better than the last one is that it's about people I know. Chances are that if you're in her readership, you know someone who's spent too long looking for a job after having been laid off, changed industries, or had a startup fail. Nickel and Dimed is successful because it highlights a recognized problem; Bait and Switch is interesting because it highlights a problem that is recognized on an individual basis but not on a societal one.

She spoke at Microsoft earlier in the week and one thing that struck me was the barrage of questions asking whether she had observed patterns in the downsized job-seekers she'd encountered in the course of researching her book. Not one but several people asked if she'd noticed them being of "lesser merit" than their employed cohort; whether they had made less effective use of networking and established industry contacts; whether she'd found them to be "lazy" or "unmotivated." Her consistent answer in the talk as well as in the book was no, the big commonality they shared was simply having been laid off. But the questions persisted. Surely there must be something, some pattern she could isolate, some generalization that could be clearly applied to assure the question-asker than he, in fact, would be immune from corporate restructuring.

The book is worth reading, but it's not going to galvanize the call to organization among the unemployed and what she calls anxiously employed that she urges. We're also not going to end up with welfare and unemployment benefits comparable to those seen in more heavily socialized European countries. Universal health care, though, is inevitable. Not with the currently Congress and administration, but at some point.


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