Virtual employment 

Author's blog broadens the discussion her book begins

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Once upon a time, people went to the bookstore, bought a book, read it, and then talked about it with their families and friends. The particularly ambitious formed book clubs. But face it that scene is so played out.

It's 2006, and we want to participate. We are the blogging generation. Luckily for the socially aware reader, Barbara Ehrenreich, investigative reporter extraordinaire, has got one of the most compelling and controversial blogs out there.

You've probably heard of her bestselling book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. In 1998, Ehrenreich lived and worked at minimum-wage jobs in Key West, Minneapolis and Portland, Maine. Her undercover research illuminated the reality that the so-called "working" poor are in fact, working more hours and working harder than is generally reported.

Ehrenreich's books are popular because they address real social problems in a sympathetic way, but also because she manages to infiltrate and report without being patronizing. There are no John Stossel "To Catch a Predator" shenanigans here; Ehrenreich is a real person who, while cognizant of her own privileged status, can evoke what it means to feel helpless in today's economy.

It's no secret that the gap between the rich and the poor in the United States has been widening significantly over the last 20 years. Unemployment, slashed wages and a lack of social programs all have contributed.

Ehrenreich's blog gives many who are angry a chance to express themselves. Her personal comments and general observations run the gamut, from Wal-Mart to Miami Vice's representations of class war.

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But those entries take second to readers' own postings. They include accounts of heartbreak, welfare rejection, long hours and above all, the spirit breaking that comes from being underemployed in the wealthiest country in the world.

Traditionalists, never fear: The conversation continues in print. Her latest book, Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, addresses another sector of the American un-rich: the white-collar unemployed. Despite the comparative advantages of having attended college or trade schools, many workers, especially those middle-aged and older, struggle to find adequate employment.

Bait and Switch has proven so popular that Ehrenreich is on another book tour to promote the paperback version. This is one reading unlikely to be sedate.


Barbara Ehrenreich reads from and signs Bait and Switch

Boulder Bookstore,

1107 Pearl St., Boulder

Tuesday, Sept. 26, 7:30 p.m.

Free; to see the author's blog, visit barbaraehrenreich.com.


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