Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Nice white collar you have there

Barbara Ehrenreich is an author and journalist (wikipedia calls her a social critic and essayist, but we're all social critics here) who wrote a book about the effects of welfare reform and the experiences of the working poor called Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. I read it and thought it was worthwhile, but didn't find it particularly galvanizing or insightful. She went "undercover" and became a member of the working poor for a while, seeing what it was like to live on minimum wage (and busting out for the occasional latte and visit to see her husband.) Then she wrote a book about it. Sweet.

Well, she did it again, and now has a book called Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, this time about the crazy white-collar world, in which most of us here in the blogworld live and move and have our being. I have not yet read it, but will, soon. In the meantime, there's a strange mini-interview with her at the Amazon site for the book, which includes this preposterous statement:

"There's a lot of camaraderie in the blue-collar world I entered in Nickel and Dimed. People help each other and look out for each other; they laugh together--often at the managers. The white-collar world doesn't encourage camaraderie, far from it. There it's all about competition and fear--of losing one's job, for one thing. Other people are seen as sources of contacts or tips, at best; as competitors or rivals, at worst. And among the unemployed add shame and a sense of personal failure, the constant message that it's all your own fault. All this discourages any solidarity with others or real openness."

What do you all make of this? I think it's completely wrong and myopic. For her to say that in general, in the blue-collar world, coworkers laugh, help and look out for each other, and in the white-collar world they don't, is just ridiculous...and I don't think the blue-collar boys and girls at Chrysler or Ford are feeling the job security right now. This is a gross oversimplification up with which I will not put. I've had 9 blue collar jobs and 2 white collar in my 23 years, and the competition, fear, and camaraderie were about the same at each.


At 11:21 AM, Blogger Barnabas18 said...


At 11:43 AM, Blogger RedHurt said...

Completely agreed - Ehrenreich is not a journalist or a sociologist. She's a publicity-stunt sensationalizer. I'm not saying she might not have a point - just that she doesn't make it in a way that is just or creidible.

If anything, my blue collar jobs were the more dog-eat-dog. The competition for better shifts, small raises, and popularity with the boss was much greater in my blue collar jobs. We might have all laughed at him or whatever, but we laugh at our white collar boss now just as much with much less fear of being layed off. I think she's completely wrong in this case, although I think her central message that America isn't it's ideal is probably not wrong, which explains her popularity among the disenfranchised, either materially or spiritually, but does nothing to explain my long run-on sentenaces.

At 10:31 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

Anyone else ever had a job?

At 11:03 AM, Blogger Jackscolon said...

I also read the book and didn't think it was that great. As for past work of mine, I'm not even sure where to classify it. Most of it was menial and low pay, but high status. As for future white-collar golf professional work, I can't say there will be much competition, since you're usually the only worker on your comparitive level.

At 5:48 PM, Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

Does McDonald's count as blue collar? I guess we laughed a good bit but that was because we all spoke different languages and it helped ease the awkward silences and tensions.

White dog collar job coming up, I will let you know.

At 11:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

She is a shallow and un-nuanced writer who had a decent idea, and did it a great disservice


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