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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

When a can-do town can’t find middle-class jobs

Amy Goldstein’s Janesville, the story of a Wisconsin town that lost its General Motors factory, isn’t just “decline porn,” writes J.D. Vance in The Book of Jobs in Commentary. Goldstein, a Puliter Prize-winning Washington Post reporter, frames the book as the story of “what happens when a community with a can-do spirit tries to pick itself back up.”

Set in the Wisconsin hometown of House Speaker Paul Ryan, the book follows “chronicles the efforts of officeholders, laid-off workers, families, local businesspeople, community-college leaders, and government officials to rebuild their lives and their hometown” in the five years after the 2008 factory closure, writes Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy.

Blackhawk Community College received funding to retrain laid-off workers. Some found new jobs, but at much lower pay than they’d earned at GM.

Working poverty is becoming the “new normal” in Janesville writes Joshua Rothman in the New Yorker.  “Unemployment is low—just four per cent—but the jobs that are available don’t pay well, and the standard of living has declined.”

Working with Wisconsin-based economists, Goldstein analyzed job-training programs in the counties around Janesville.  She found workers who retrain are “less likely to get jobs than those who don’t,” writes Rothman. “Even when they do find work, most retrained workers earn less than their untutored peers.”  He concludes: Job training programs “are appealing mainly because they let politicians tell a hopeful story during a dark time.”

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