The middle class, writes Ehrenreich, is losing ground as steadily as the poor—and it has even more parasites feasting on its wounds.
Poised, well-educated, but of a certain age and without a classic career trajectory, Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed, 2001) changes her name back to her natal Barbara Alexander, takes a new social security number and tries to get a job in the corporate world. Poor thing, she sets her sights high, hoping for something with a nice health plan and “an income of about $50,000 a year, enough to land me solidly in the middle class.” Phase 1, deliciously detailed here, encompasses Ehrenreich/Alexander’s meetings with a succession of bullshit artists who attempt to soak as much of her money as they can while fixing the commas on her résumé, helping her concoct lies about her working past and indoctrinating her in New Age nonsense that hardnosed corporate America seems to have swallowed whole. Phase 2 involves dreadful meet-and-greet networking rituals, many of them gateways to fundamentalist Christianity, another species of false hope to fuel the unemployed and underemployed. “The white-collar workforce,” writes Ehrenreich, “seems to consist of two groups: those who can’t find work at all and those who are employed in jobs where they work much more than they want to. In between lies a scary place where you dedicate long hours to a job that you sense is about to eject you, if only because so many colleagues have been laid off already.” After months of looking and landing only pyramid-scheme offers in return, she concludes that the corporate world has sent her and her kind a clear message—anyone with a brain need not apply, and past success does not matter. What does is obedience, and the sure knowledge that one can be sacrificed at any moment.
Another unsettling message about an ugly America from a trustworthy herald. Read it and weep—especially if you’re a job-seeker.