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Janesville: An American Story

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* Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award Winner
* A New York Times Notable Book
* NPR Best Books of 2017

“Moving and magnificently well-researched...Janesville joins a growing family of books about the evisceration of the working class in the United States. What sets it apart is the sophistication of its storytelling and analysis.” —The New York Times

A Washington Post reporter’s intimate account of the fallout from the closing of a General Motors’ assembly plant in Janesville, Wisconsin—Paul Ryan’s hometown—and a larger story of the hollowing of the American middle class.

This is the story of what happens to an industrial town in the American heartland when its factory stills—but it’s not the familiar tale. Most observers record the immediate shock of vanished jobs, but few stay around long enough to notice what happens next, when a community with a can-do spirit tries to pick itself up.

Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Goldstein has spent years immersed in Janesville, Wisconsin where the nation’s oldest operating General Motors plant shut down in the midst of the Great Recession, two days before Christmas of 2008. Now, with intelligence, sympathy, and insight into what connects and divides people in an era of economic upheaval, she makes one of America’s biggest political issues human. Her reporting takes the reader deep into the lives of autoworkers, educators, bankers, politicians, and job re-trainers to show why it’s so hard in the twenty-first century to recreate a healthy, prosperous working class.

For this is not just a Janesville story or a Midwestern story. It’s an American story.

369 pages, Kindle Edition

First published April 18, 2017

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Amy Goldstein

17 books26 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 893 reviews
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,394 followers
March 11, 2018
This must have been a difficult book to write. Goldstein almost succeeds in giving us a 360⚬ view of the deindustrialization of one Wisconsin city—Janesville, Paul Ryan’s home town—but the effect is oddly muted. In trying to describe the city’s fortunes in a strictly nonpartisan way, she unfortunately emasculates the place. Her view, while it lives and breathes through the portraits of workers she introduces, does not explain.

The only reason I know that Goldstein’s street-level stories do not explain anything is that I have been curious about, and following, District #1 in Wisconsin for some years now myself, and I came away with a different view of why the queerly upbeat Paul Ryan feels “the stress of DC literally just rolls off me as I…come into town.” If he has his eyes open, he’s lying. Janesville is the most economically depressed small city I have seen in years.

Ryan’s townspeople can’t stand him and have been trying to vote him out of office since 2010. But they can’t manage it because of something Goldstein did not mention: the severe GOP-inspired gerrymander that has turned a blue state red. There is also lots of outside money pouring in to support GOP candidates, which Goldstein did point to when Governor Scott Walker faced recall in 2012 but managed to stay in office.

Goldstein gives valuable background information for the period 2008-2013, but by itself, her work is insufficient to explain Wisconsin’s and the midwest deindustrialization in general. The reasons for that, I’m afraid, are much more macro and has quite a lot to do with global trends, trade policies, Wall Street, and the “haves” who are anxious to preserve their financial advantages rather than help the generalized “worker class” prepare for a different world.

The GM assembly plant based in Janesville opened in 1919 and had some 7,000 workers at its peak in the 1970s. When it closed its doors in 2008, it was down to some 1,200 regular workers. Auto manufacturers had unionized labor. Unionized wages were higher than non-unionized wages. The book made several points learned only after a couple of years of study:

✦ People working in the plant had middle-class lives they did not want to give up, naturally, when the plant closed. Several buyouts were offered. Those that took the earliest buyouts had better financial outcomes than those who waited hoping the plant would gear back up.

✦ Newly unemployed people who attended Blackhawk Technical School retraining sessions and who graduated with an associates’ degree made less money, on average, than those who did not retrain and found work elsewhere. (Those who retrained made 1/3 less than before; not-retrained made 8% less than before.)

✦ Families came under severe stress, and many broke up, in some cases abandoning school-age children who then became homeless, sleeping on friend's couches. This disregarded population of floaters is not only extremely vulnerable now, but will likely experience trouble adjusting in the future as well.

✦ An online virtual academy for high school students in Janesville, called Arise Virtual Academy, exempted its students from Wisconsin limits on how many hours teenagers are allowed to work, providing an youthful source of--virtually--slave labor for local business behemoths. Teenagers could therefore help their families survive, while straining their own chances to thrive.

✦ Some former GM workers became ‘gypsies,’ working at GM plants in nearby states while their families stayed in Janesville, many because their homes were difficult to sell since the market had dropped.

It is unlikely that a city or town doing well economically would have had so prescient a leader who could have helped the community prepare one’s mindset from receiving a weekly wage to something quite different. After all, why rock the boat? Very few small cities have corporations providing almost the entire income base, but if they did, congressional representatives probably counted their lucky stars rather than worry about the future.

Goldstein does talk a little about Governor Scott Walker's assault on teachers and the teachers' union in 2011, the very people who would be able to help a population come to grips with a changing world. It is difficult to come to any conclusion but that the conservatives in state government think sticks are more effective than carrots when it comes to modifying behaviors. Bad daddy politics.

Goldstein introduces two women who used capital to which they already had access to build up the small sister-city to Janesville, outside of Paul Ryan's District #1 lines, called Beloit. Beloit is now a kind of fiefdom of one billionaire, Diane Hendricks, helped along by Janesville businesswoman and banker Mary Willmer.

This kind of fiefdom investment has taken place in at least two other places also on the border of Paul Ryan’s district, Waukesha and Verona. Ryan sometimes holds meetings in these locations rather than in his own district, where he has declared he will no longer hold public meetings. There are too many protestors.
In Nov 2017, Goldstein was invited to speak at the Wisconsin Book Festival in Madison. She was able to explain her reasons for choosing Janesville to study, her methodology, what she intended to accomplish. The public policy implications of her book will be clear to any reader. I guess I wanted a different book.
Profile Image for Rachel.
399 reviews4 followers
June 28, 2017
updated to include some information the author missed in her telling (last 3 paragraphs).

I started reading this because I grew up near Janesville and my father-in-law's job was related to GM. He passed away before the layoffs of this book. Growing up we'd drive 20 minutes to Janesville to see a movie, go to the mall, or go to Woodman's and I remember my high school social studies teacher lamenting that she should have taken a job at GM to make better money than she did teaching (she told us this while ostensibly teaching).

I didn't find much in this book that was a revelation, except that I didn't know the history of Parker Pen. The basic take away is that union jobs provide security and folks we're both surprised and in bad shape after the plant closed. The book reinforced the hardships of living close to the poverty line, struggling to find a good job and making tough choices.
The book closely followed several different Janesville workers for the years after the closing. Most folks were worse off, even if they were able to transfer at GM or get another job with benefits.
One of the strangest things, I thought, was how folks would commute to a GM job in Indiana and back every weekend while the wife and kids stayed in Janesville. Janesville is not that great, folks, just move! You can visit the relatives via the same drive, but you don't utterly burn yourself out and spend on two homes and all that driving. It boggles my mind. After I finished the book, I talked to someone from the area and she said most of her friends left the state after GM. Generally these were younger people. They weren't really mentioned in the book, which is, of course, about people in Janesville, not those who left.

After I finished the book, I wanted to get other opinions on some of the books' assertions. Throughout the book the author continually referred to Janesville's apparently well-known history of everybody getting along (the author suggested this was people of different political persuasions getting along) and the populations history of supporting charity giving within the city. But something the author doesn't mention is that the city banned African American people from living in the city until the 70s! The author does make repeated references to the "Irish Mafia" meaning JP Cullen's owners and the Ryan family. During the reading I thought that it was odd to refer to mafia and not mean violence and oppressive control. Suddenly, though, a city controlled by an Irish faction, one with limited (and historically enforced) racial diversity, and good jobs (GM), looks like a place where you'd expect harmony and charity.

But the racial exclusion impacts another reading of the book. In the book, the author mentions the rivalry between Janesville and Beloit. She suggests it's kind of a cute regional rivalry, but Beloit has a fairly large African American population, brought to Wisconsin, in part, during the Black Migration of 1915-1970 ( The Warmth of Other Suns is great read, by the way). What I also found out after reading the book is that black folks who worked at GM Janseville tended to live in Beloit. Suddenly the cute rivalry between the cities looks a lot more like a racial division developed because Janesville kept these workers out of their city.

So here's my problem with the book: how did this not come up in the author's research? I'm not trying to give everything a seedy underbelly, but American history is chock full of segregation, discrimination, separation, and economic division that involve race and otherness. It cannot be left out and when it is left out of a history of a place and a community of people, it makes it harder for us readers of history to make connections and recognize problems or understand what happened or what is happening.
Profile Image for Brina.
886 reviews4 followers
July 4, 2018
Each year I try to finish a distinctly American book on or around the Fourth of July. In years past I've completed a Ron Rash novella and Gone With the Wind on this date. This year, I've focused on nonfiction and rather than force myself to read a great American novel, I stuck with a true story. One of our group reads in the Nonfiction Book Club is Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein. Providing a current snapshot of Americana, Janesville is a story that should not be overlooked.

Janesville is a southern Wisconsin town on the Rock River that is a white, blue collar community. Home to a General Motors plant, Lear Corp plant, and Parker Pen factory, Janesville has been home to thousands of blue collar jobs for over eighty five years when the General Motors plant first opened. The town quickly galvanized around GM, and joining its ranks right out of high school became a rite of passage for generations of Janesville boys. Girls hoped to score well and enter the Parker factory right out of school as well. Honest factory jobs provided for the town and in term stimulated other sectors of the economy as well. All was well in Janesville until General Motors announced that it would be closing the plant at the end of 2010.

Goldstein divides the book into six parts, one per year between 2011-2015. She focused on three families and how General Motors' closing effected them in their own way. Families that were once middle class had to pinch pennies, many resorted to food stamps and teenagers working multiple jobs. In some cases middle aged GM and Lear workers returned to school to attempt to learn a new trade, unfortunately; they were not always successful in these endeavors. Others chose to commute to the nearest GM factory and become what Goldstein terms as gypsies. Although able to keep their pension and benefits, the pros and cons did not always balance out. A once thriving community all but canceled their traditional Labor Day festival as labor in Janesville trickled to a standstill.

While I found Goldstein's study of Janesville captivating, I felt that she could have kept politics out of it. She wrote how committed citizens in all walks of life rallied to assist their neighbors in times of need, developing new help programs, job centers, and college courses. Yet, it was apparent from the get go that the book takes a political stance, whereas she could have presented the cast of political characters without showing her personal views. This turned me off to an otherwise captivating, fast reading book.

Janesville: An American Story offers a glimpse of how an American town has struggled to stay afloat and reinvent itself following the recession of 2008. It presents distinctly American themes of resilience and coming together as a community in times of need. While there could have been less politics involved, I thought that the book provided many talking points that should translate well to our non fiction book club discussion. So happy 4th of July. Let us use Janesville as an example of Americans constantly learning how to reinvent themselves and staying as ahead as possible.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for The Pfaeffle Journal (Diane).
156 reviews11 followers
December 16, 2017
Janesville was devastated by the closing of the General Motors plant in December 2008. Amy Goldstein's book takes us through the five years following the plant closure. Janesville survived the loss of the plant and all of the supporting industries but it never finally recovered.

It was refreshing to get an honest appraisal of what happen in Janesville. Millions of dollars flowed into Janesville for job retraining which proved to be a dismal failure. None of the jobs that Janeville residents retrained for ever returned them to where they were financially before the plant closing. Many of the folks were ill-equipped for retraining as they had no computer skills. As the residents struggled, the city and county attempted to respond by developing identifying possible job skills for retraining it citizens. Various forces worked against some of the folks that were retrained. Even after re-training wages were never equal to what they were paid working for General Motors. Going back you school after being in the work-force for 15 to 20 years is hard. Training a new trade is hard, but learning a new trade in a community where the economic base has been destroyed is near impossible.

Today Janesville, has an underemployment rate of just over 4% but the area has not recovered to where it was prior to the plant closing. There are still residents that are commuting to other GM plants rather than take a cut in wages. I don't see the current administration doing anything substantial to return Janesville to prior economic status. Although Janesville is the home of Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, Goldstein makes it clear that Ryan did not involve himself in the in the community as one thought that he should. Janesville is just another example of how we are losing our manufacturing base in this country, while our corporate and civic leaders are doing nothing to find new avenues of meaningful and well-paying employment for its middle class.

I would highly recommend this book, it is honest and forthright.

This review was originally posted on The Pfaeffle Journal
Profile Image for Brandice.
820 reviews
April 23, 2018
Janesville: An American Story follows the city of Janesville, Wisconsin from 2008-2012 during America’s most recent recession - Goldstein provides an account of how this blue collar, hardworking, middle-class city, and its residents were impacted during this time frame, beginning with GM’s announcement that the company would be closing its plant in Janesville.

As a whole, I found the book depressing. As someone who graduated college in the height of this recession, I found some of the struggles referenced in the book relatable. Fortunately, other struggles, like having my parents abandon me and leave me homeless at 16, or being 15 and providing my parents money from multiple part-time jobs to help with the mortgage payment and groceries, I did not.

I really didn’t know anything about Janesville prior to reading this book. While Janesville was obviously not the only place impacted during this trying time, it was hit hard, and despite the depressing circumstances and tone, I enjoyed reading this “study” of the city. I was eager to see how things would turn out for the group of residents the story follows, and appreciated that the epilogue provided an update on each of them.
Profile Image for Tiffany.
473 reviews
August 3, 2017
Full disclosure: I received this book in a giveaway from Goodreads. Also, I grew up mostly in Janesville and attended Blackhawk Tech, moving away from Janesville for the last time in 1998. This book sent me back through a lot of old feelings about "plant rats," as non-GM workers called the GM workers. For at least the first half of the book, I felt much the same way as I had in high school, an opinion I picked up from my mother and from friends' parents. I didn't know anyone that worked at GM, and non-GM workers tended to think poorly of GM employees. They spent all their money on toys like jet-skis and motorhomes, and they made a lot of money for doing work that was incredibly repetitive and simple. As the country faced the smaller recession in the 1980s (as compared to the Great Recession the book covers), most non-GM residents felt that GM workers were fools if they didn't see what was coming: no job was guaranteed and the days of working at one company till retirement were over. Change happened, and you were a fool to think you were immune from it.

I found the author's portrait of the GM workers to be overly rosy, painting all GM workers as salt of the earth, good, generous people. She neglected to mention that more than a few GM workers routinely brought beer to work in their lunch. One employee my family was acquainted with actually got sent home from GM for driving a supply cart drunk after getting loaded on his lunch break. The author conveniently missed that one of the biggest drug busts in Rock County history was to break up the drug ring inside the GM plant. Even having grown up in Janesville, I never would have driven a Chevrolet, specifically *because* I knew about all these things. I got flack more than once for driving a Toyota.

Honestly, having all these old feelings of class separation and resentment come back while reading this was more than a little unpleasant and, as a result, it took me a longer time than usual to work my way through the book.

But, for about the last third of the book, when the author describes what the children went through, how hard the families worked to try and keep things afloat, my opinion changed. I felt a huge amount of sympathy for the twin girls supporting their family, remembering some of the sacrifices I made growing up poor. Knowing that they were stuck there, not being able to afford to leave, particularly when there was no way they could sell their house in such a depressed market in a town no one was moving to. Yes, the GM workers may very well have been naive to assume that their jobs were secure, despite what seemed like the obvious signs to the contrary. But, they were the victim of the same raw deal that many workers were sold throughout the 1980s and 1990s - that if you did all the right things and worked hard, you could "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" and persevere. Those families get shuffled by the wayside, while politicians like Paul Ryan keep coming out on top. For all his preaching of bootstraps and financial wonkery, he went to college on the social security payout from a relative's death. Bootstraps, my ass, Speaker Ryan. I was particularly disgusted when it was mentioned than Diane Hendricks, one of the wealthy co-chairs of the 5.0 program, donated millions to Trump and Walker's campaigns rather than to the revitalization efforts in her own community.

Overall, even though I think the author painted the GM workers in an undeserved light, she did an excellent job guiding us through the gauntlet of feeling for these people. I always felt that there were two Janesvilles, long before the way it was described here. Janesville has always been a vanilla town - you were either like everyone else, or you were an outcast. I was definitely in the outcast group, and I left as soon as I could for places that embraced diversity rather than squelching it. I was surprised to find that the author could create sympathy in me for a town that I have previously thought poorly of.
Profile Image for Dan.
1,075 reviews52 followers
February 14, 2018
With some reservations this is a book that everyone should read. The author took leave from the Washington Post to research this book and moved to Janesville. The book is a vivid and heart wrenching assessment covering six years of the manufacturing town in Wisconsin. The reporting occurs after GM’s shuttering of its Janesville automotive plant during the ‘08 economic meltdown. Impeccably researched, the stories cover former GM workers and other people working at other manufacturers. We see the loss of jobs, the economic impact to other family members. The stories even cover an economic retraining initiative and stimulus from the government that, usually, led to lower paying jobs elsewhere.

I found the story of Matt who had to leave his wife and kids in Janesville to work 5 hours away at the Ft Wayne GM factory to be especially compelling. This vagabond work situation goes on for years. In fact there are over 500 GM Janesville workers who take jobs in other states. The stories are diverse and not solely focused on GM. There is a suicide of one of the characters who is retrained as a prison guard. The author points out that the suicide rate of Rock county has more than doubled since the plant closed down. There is the story of the high achieving high school twins that have to take out $15,000 loans to attend nearby UW Platteville. They are understandably miffed that college is so expensive and all in a town with double digit unemployment and average salaries of less than $20 an hour.

There is a fair amount of coverage of the abandonment of the Janesville working class by native son Paul Ryan and Governor Scott Walker. During the 2012 Presidential campaign while Ryan was Romney’s running mate there was a campaign decision forbidding Ryan to hold rallies in his hometown because of Ryan’s increasing unpopularity in the town and the negative press that might come from protesters.

The messaging of the book is spot on, many of the vignettes are heart wrenching, well researched, a representative saga of what has happened in manufacturing cities all across the midwest. In all of these areas the book is of five star quality.

The area where the book struggles is in the actual writing and sentence construction- a journalistic style where it is ok to construct sentences without verbs and construct pages without any descriptive metaphors and a style where each paragraph is laced with facts rather than literary quality. As in this section about Jerad’s plight.

“His girlfriend was with him; she was killed, too. Michael was twenty—Jerad’s big brother. His death left their parents with only one living child—and left Jerad with a gloom that arrives before every Christmas.” It may not bother some readers but take note.

This is an impactful book and I think the author deftly addresses the story of Janesville without an air of preachiness. Many books have tried to cover this economic sea change that has occurred in manufacturing towns across America and missed the mark. I think the author’s success is partly attributable to her focus on the human drama in her reporting.
Profile Image for Yun.
508 reviews18.9k followers
May 9, 2018
Janesville is a tale of an American industrial town as it went through the tough years following the closing down of a GM plant in 2008 where many of the townspeople were employed. The book follows about a dozen people and their families in the years after 2008, and how they were impacted by the plant shutdown, even if they themselves did not work there. There are so many examples of resilience and can-do spirit in this tale, but there are also examples of how those just weren't enough.

While I found these stories to be sad yet hopeful, I do feel that there weren't any revelations in here. I didn't gain much insight from reading this book other than confirmation of what I already knew happened to towns like this during the recession. Goldstein kept the story of each person fairly on-the-surface instead of including more in-depth analysis or interpretations. For example, I would have liked to know more about why retraining workers who have lost their jobs don't lead to more pay, which the book mentioned in passing during the main sections and then included an appendix of data to this effect, but no explanations of reasons. Or if there was anything the townspeople or the government could have done to prevent this or to have made it easier or to learn for the future, that would have been nice to include. Without any analysis or deeper thoughts, this book was a tale that barely scratched the surface.
Profile Image for Kelli.
844 reviews391 followers
February 3, 2019
This was soul crushing. It was a long, hard look at the devastating effects of corporate greed and in many ways, it is an accurate depiction of what it means to work in America today, where loyalty and job security are a thing of the past. Well-researched and well written, this is the story of those deeply affected by the decimation of industry in an industrial town: those who triumphed, those who didn’t, and some incredibly charitable souls, who did everything they could to support and help their community. Though unexpectedly political, this one hit me hard.
4 stars
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 6 books1,204 followers
September 11, 2017
Absolutely fascinating and compelling look at what happened in Janesville following the closure of the GM plant which had made the small city an almost-ideal middle class dreamland. There are a ton of POVs here, from high school students impacted by their parents' job losses, to those who chose to work in Ft. Wayne, IN, and commute back home to Janesville every weekend, those in politics and those in local nonprofits trying to help people get back on their feet.

I live just outside Janesville and worked in Beloit, and I worked in the Rockford area immediately south of both during this time. A lot of things were mirrors of what I saw, and it was fascinating to see how Janesville -- while certainly not fixed -- has rebounded more than either Beloit or the Rockford area.

It was a little frustrating, though, how little discussion there was of race here and it really needed to be in here. The single line about how Janesville was more white and Beloit far more black in terms of population "not being important" isn't true. It's hugely important and really does impact the whys and hows and impacts of the crisis in each community. Race plays very little into the book at all and I wish it had been covered more in-depth because there's a lot to sink into there (& it doesn't at all touch upon race outside of black and white, which is also a problem in an area where the Latinx population is noteworthy).

I'd love to see what people think reading this and reading Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. The two books are stories of two cities separated by under 70 miles in the same state. Both are about class and poverty, though one clearly digs into race far more. It's just fascinating to look at the way these lives play out so differently in such close proximity.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,207 reviews547 followers
May 26, 2018
Outstanding witness "eyes" for those who lived in Janesville, WI during the Great Recession, just before and for the decade since too in much of the copy having "after" information updates at the end.

4.5 star and only being kept from a round up by the jumpiness from one family, school, project for homeless teens- down to bottom government "eyes" for attention to the situation etc. It's difficult to combine all of these inputs (plus a flood too) into Janesville's dilemma.

But I do love the style point of reading this from the dictates of real people who expose their names, ancestry, economic minutia etc. Dozens of very brave people to approach the misgivings of/for their job, family, faith, and especially dollars and cents realities.

As much as I understood and saw it myself (in two other states) that UAW dichotomy of "union" context, connotation, conceptions etc. confronting reality? Well, it can be a WHOLE lot worse than Janesville WI. So I was probably not the most sympathetic or empathetic audience to this particular location tale. It was far worse in MI for longer (before the Great Recession began too) periods, and for larger geographic regions in decades length perpetuity. There were 4 or 5 counties in which at least 1 of 3 or 1 of 4 houses were abandoned. Unpaid/ foreclosed/ left because there were no buyers, townships imploding too etc. Here in Janesville-the banking, school "pantry", associated tangent small businesses- they could at least in majority REMAIN. And in most cases could also "catch up" in 3 or 4 years with the increased needs of the GM and Parker leavings. Points in MI still have 20 year old factory shells standing like skeletons.

Not at all saying that Janesville, WI was any approach to easy street in this review! But they had a self-identity history / association of multiple generational association and organization (how about that LABOR DAY parade). And it seems that in many determining ways, that identity base was a great crutch to lean upon to solidify some quicker reactions for job voids than in the places I saw in IL and MI.

It's hard for me to read some of the reviews for this book. They look/ react to poverty so variously/ differently. I guess things are all relative and poor for some people is not "poor" for others. And I also didn't read any part of these reviews until after I finished this entire book myself. But I guess, if you haven't seen this unemployment live? Or haven't seen the atrocious side of union bullying and oppression beyond the corporate failures? And who that "union mindset and hierarchy" excludes? And does it exclude.

I certainly can perceive and also understand the "union rat" bias or opposite "eyes" and several other avenues that are not much represented in this book but are in some of the reviews reactions. Yes, there certainly are long and short term ires/ jealousies within a small town or middling city when things go this way or within any huge union reversal situation being long termed/ forever in its supposed "reign". Seemingly. Because much of union work does assume an elated salary regardless of the location history and other criteria coupled by hire date (seniority status)/ or for the scales of real and measurable work completed to product piece that is put into the production study results for this long term union employee. And non-union workers ALWAYS notice the differential too for that wage scale to production result, especially if they are owner operated or small non-union manufacture employee shared ownership or whatever. This book fails to truly address it in the reaction of those who did NOT have their UAW "guarantees" disappointed, because they had never had that scale to reverse from en masse- the ones who were NOT the GM brand. She should have used more personal inputs to the ones who never worked GM or Parker when the plant left. The ones who were already living on a smaller economic scale for income.

An excellent issue though that was cited thoroughly made up for that. Examples in cases, whole programs, exact nature of a couple of trainees "eyes" within the Blackhawk training examples and also within the various college courses regimes in preparation for new jobs after their unemployment dole runs out. Those portions absolutely intrigued me. They were the highlight of the book from my own experiences of those over 40, over 50, or a mere 33 who return to college or some technical or skills training. Returning adults being intrinsic to my own job in my last 15 years in the workplace.

Because I had come to the same conclusions as the real stats cited in the book for Janesville. That those who went into years of training, retraining or skills trades apprenticeships etc. Those STILL never attained the economic levels of their "before" training periods for this kind of manufacturing GM Janesville scenario. And that even with bachelor degrees obtained that the jobs market is often not receptive to a higher paying job without a vast re-location agenda from the levels gotten in UAW GM decades of employment. Which often decimates or negates the family unit (divorce/ abandonment) or the economics of the lodging mortgage/ equity possibilities for the former income levels.

Sad what unemployment does to families. She didn't hit the entire ice berg on that one here, but did a 90% picture of Janesville's version. With the teens she managed a goodly sample, but not with the adults. It's worse than the Kristi outcome at times. Abuse and abandonment entangled, yes- but also drug addiction in particular.
Profile Image for Thomas Ray.
899 reviews312 followers
March 11, 2018
Details what happened to many of the people of Janesville WI when the General Motors plant closed in 2008.

Far too little on why it /shouldn't've/ happened.

GM went bankrupt, was allowed to leave the rest of us paying the consequences of its bad bets, close 15 plants. And let Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Michigan bid against each other, who will pay the most extortion to have one GM plant. Michigan won, paying $1 billion !! for a plant with 1400 jobs [$700,000 per job!!!]--many of those jobs at $10 to $14 per hour.

Goldstein is a Washington Post reporter. So her mindset is pro-corporate. She doesn't suggest any better way to do things.
Profile Image for Susan.
976 reviews
April 30, 2019
I read Janesville very quickly but it was a tough read. 2008 may have been the start of the Great Recession but I feel that from my teen years, back in the 70s, I've been living in one recession after another.

My home town on the Columbia River is a lumber town, a mill town. Logging, sawmills, a paper mill, aluminum plant, were all steady, productive, well paid blue collar jobs. Hard work, dangerous work (I was an adult well into my 30s, living many miles away before I realized it was not the usual thing for so many men to be missing at least parts of their fingers), but work you could take pride in. Our schools and public services were well supported.

If you've ever passed through or spent time in a paper mill town you will know they are ...fragrant. As a girl I commented once on the extra pungent aroma one day and was told, "Girl, that is the smell of money. Jobs and money."

Whenever we crossed the Columbia we would count the number of ships in port, being loaded with lumber products to be shipped around the world. There were many. Having learned from the mistakes of the past great efforts were made to replant the forests. It was kind of entertaining when driving around the countryside to see how much growth these reforestation plantings were making as you could see the signs posted telling the year that particular plot of land was replanted (Hey, those tress are the same age as I am!). Yes, there were the occasional seasonal lay offs and I remember one particularly difficult labor dispute but employment was secure if you were willing to work.

All that changed in what seemed like an instant but the change was really spread out over a number of years. Young men could no longer count on summer jobs. If you were laid off you might not get hired back. And, as in Janesville, once your town's main industries take a blow the misfortune seems to run down hill pretty quickly. The recession of the 1970s was brought on by several factors, big government spending on social programs and the Vietnam war, the oil crisis, I'm sure I've forgotten other factors, I was only a teenager, but I remember the inflation and wage stagnation.

There were a couple of times when my dad's pay check bounced. I remember my parents getting a wood stove insert for our fireplace to reduce our heating bill. To stretch the fire wood we also tightly rolled our newspaper and any leftover newspapers from my brothers' paper routes to burn. I felt like I had fallen into a chapter of one of the Little House books. As kids we all got jobs as soon as we were old enough,starting with picking strawberries the summer of 6th grade. Gas was rationed, lines were long.

And then came the spotted owl controversy which seems to have permanently altered the face of the logging and forestry industry. Now the mills in my little town ship out raw timber instead of finished products. There is seldom more than one ship in port at a time. They've hung on, surviving as Portland and Vancouver spread, requiring more affordable bedroom communities.

Yes, times change, and we need to change with them but it is hard to reinvent yourself every 10 or 15 years.

In 2008 I was married, my kids were mostly grown, and by the grace of God we managed to stay employed and afloat. We actually rode out that recession reasonably well. But to be honest, any salary increases we have received since then have generally been due to changing jobs, slowly climbing the career ladder, and with rising housing and health care costs and having to fund your own retirement I don't know that we've ever actually seen much of a real increase on the bottom line. I can remember being furious when President Obama announced at one point that there was no inflation (as long as you did not count certain categories which included housing and food, insert eye roll) because that was certainly not our experience. Over the course of a few years our health insurance went from $126 per month for a family of 5 with $5 co-pays and low deductibles, to almost $600 for 3, $30 co-pays, a mysterious new thing called co-insurance, and $2500 deductibles per person. Working for the same employer and with the same insurance company. I think it is safe to say those kind of increases pretty well canceled out any COLA or even merit raises for years to come.

I could go on but I think you can see what I'm trying to say here: I've been living the Janesville experience pretty much my whole life. I found the book well done, desperately sad, and, frankly, terrifying in our current unstable world plagued with divisive opinions and politics. Think what you will about them but in the current atmosphere would it even be possible for people to agree sufficiently to form a labor union if it meant better pay and safer working conditions? I doubt it. I was horrified to read that those who took advantage of the opportunity to retrain for new careers actually ended up worse off financially. I think it horrified me because I have long suspected that was the case and fed a private little fear that there is no fix for this mess. Unemployment levels may be low but how much of that is because people are working at lower paying jobs, part-time jobs, and multiple jobs?

I've read other books on the economy and shifts in the work place. Every time I find myself thinking, well, no wonder we have struggled. Certainly we've made some mistakes but the ebb and flow of finance and the economy has not been in our favor. My husband's first career was essentially eliminated by Reaganomics, which I believe were necessary, but then we suffered a second blow with the technology explosion when his highly skilled college training turned into an automated tech job that eliminated who knows how many jobs and paid, at that time, at best about $5 an hour, not enough to raise a family on one salary. We've worked hard, we are grateful for employment, but we're also rather concerned about what our retirement years are going to look like. Janesville did not reassure me.
Profile Image for Sterlingcindysu.
1,313 reviews48 followers
December 22, 2019
Edited 12/22/19, one of my top 10 for 2019

4.5 rounded down.

I'm approaching my 60s and at different points of my life I've faced the same challenges as the Janesville citizens. Even reading it gave me a sense of wanting to clip coupons, raise the AC and cook more!

Much to think about here. The one item that really shocked me was how retraining DID NOT work. All that money spent on developing classes, gas, books, tuition, time and who benefits? That money could have been better spent building a new hospital, school, jail, roads, community centers or nursing homes and giving first crack of jobs to the laid off workers. Maybe even buying franchises of real businesses. I was surprised at the programs picked--if I were laid off, I would want to learn plumbing or car repair because you could always work under the table if you needed (and of course fix your own).

Along the same lines, more programs needed to have internships--even if they weren't paid--so the students could realize early on, "Hey even if I get the certificate I don't want to work here anyway."

Something that gave me pause was that the teens in the book were able to find (and work) 2-3 jobs--so why weren't adults snapping up those jobs?

I think the optimism of Janesville 5.0 backfired in the sense that it encouraged families to stay when they should have packed and moved immediately. (Those who have been through other layoffs and closings know that the buyouts are always better at the beginning and dwindle as time goes on.)

I didn't know Paul Ryan came from Janesville and I forgot he was Romney's running mate not so long ago.

Of course hindsight is 20-20 so maybe others who are laidoff in the future will heed these lessons.
1,553 reviews82 followers
August 31, 2018
Janesville, Wisconsin grew up around a General Motors plant. For nearly a century, GM provided thousands of good paying jobs and supported a number of other businesses that provided parts to GM, retailers that provided goods to its employees and professionals that provided services to their families. In 2008, as part of the Great Recession, the GM plant closed, setting off a cascade of economic decline for the community. Goldstein explores the impact of the Great Recession by following a handful of families in Janesville, some who never fully recovered from the plant closing and some who continued to thrive. She also depicts the social and political divide that formed in the decade after the loss of the primary employer. The writing is clear, the families profiled are compelling and the account of a divided community struggling to find its footing is well explained. This was an engaging book that leaves me with much to ponder.
Profile Image for Athan Tolis.
309 reviews571 followers
January 5, 2018
I work in Finance and as I’m reviewing “Janesville” this Friday, January 5, 2018, it happens to be Nonfarm Payrolls day, the day of the month when most pundits on CNBC and Bloomberg TV have ritually argued for quite some time now that the Fed’s low interest rates have led the economy to full employment, while others have begun to agitate for hikes, for the QE-related bond purchases to be reversed etc.

And from 40,000 feet the picture seems to be quite clear: even if things are far from perfect, the storm that started some ten years ago has very clearly abated. From 10% unemployment in October of 2009, the number today was at 4.1%. From 25.2 weeks in June 2010, the median unemployment duration has fallen to 9.1 weeks. From over 15.3 million unemployed in April 2010, the number today was under 6.6 million.

Conversely, of course, and this is again a view from 40,000 feet, the actual employment rate is stuck at a stubbornly low 60.1%, which is marginally better than the 58.2% minimum it hit in July 2012 (or its 58.3% as recently as October 2013), not to mention that in January 2007 it had been at a lofty 63.4%.

The reason is that things are different: the labor participation rate remains a truly abysmal 62.7%, versus 66.3% in January of 2007 and has barely budged from its low of 62.4% in September of 2015, all while, or perhaps even because, pay (hourly and otherwise) is stuck in the doldrums.

What is one to make of it all?

You could do a lot worse than abandon your bird’s eye view and land on Janesville, Wisconsin, the hometown of 2012 vice-presidential candidate and current #2 in succession to Donald Trump, speaker Paul Ryan, a city of 60k that for at least a century was synonymous with American manufacturing.

Janesville not only was the home of the Parker pen, it was also a manufacturing hub for General Motors, who bought a local businessman’s truck business in the early 20th century and carried on making SUVs in Janesville all the way up to 2008, attracting in the process a large number of suppliers, such as Lear.

Janesville is also an important city in the history of labor relations in America. A star of the progressive era, Wisconsin pioneered laws that in the thirties FDR enacted for the entire nation, while Janesville in particular was famous both for the local strength of the UAW, but also for its effectiveness in mediating good relations with GM, preventing violence and organizing charity across town.

In this brilliantly conceived, masterfully told, but also very tough book, author Amy Goldstein recounts the story of three Janesville families that were struck by unemployment as Parker Pen, GM and Lear all shut shop in the 2008 crash, their travails in seeking alternative employment and their efforts to keep their families and their lives together.

She also takes a pragmatic look at the efforts expended by all the members of the community who sought to assist them, from the director of the job center who gave it all to help, to the compassionate teachers who kept their kids’ spirits up, to the union leaders and the leaders of the business community who refused to give up, all the way up to the local and federal-level politicians.

You read this book, and the BLS statistics truly come alive, they acquire names and feelings and habits and aspirations.

Don’t read “Janesville” if you’re down, you have been warned. But if you’ve got the stomach for it, it’s now the book I’d recommend you read about the “Great Recession” and I’ve read many good books about the struggles of common people in the last decade, including “Bad Paper,” “Chain of Title,” “The Unbanking of America” and “Hand to Mouth.”

I enjoyed all of them, but “Janesville” hit me hardest and probably taught me the most too.
Profile Image for Ellen Matheson.
29 reviews2 followers
December 8, 2017
Goldstein's book paints an empathetic and thorough portrait of ex-GM workers in Janesville - a group of lower to middle income Americans whose economic livelihoods were ravaged by the extensive reach of the Great Recession. While I appreciate Goldstein's talent for storytelling, I found this book to be incredibly lacking in contextual analysis; we read "Janesville" and we sympathize with the Whiteakers, Vaughns, and Wopats of this country, so, what do we do now? Goldstein presents zero policy recommendations. Even more problematically, she reveals an astounding fact- 52% of the people in Rock County-Janesville voted for Clinton, not Trump - without offering so much as a sentence of conjecture about why the national consensus attributes Trump's victory to exactly this category of voters. If Janesville didn't vote for Trump, Ms. Goldstein, then why is the literary and sociological community hailing "Hillbilly Elegy" as an "explanation for the rise of Donald Trump"? "Janesville" directly contradicts the national political consensus in ways that must be analyzed - immediately - if our nation is to make sense of Trump's ascension to the presidency.
*I would be fascinated to see any sort of dialogue between Goldstein, J.D. Vance, and Ta-Nehisi Coates on the topic of their competing portraits of the modern electorate.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,661 followers
January 27, 2019
The book was compilation of stories and vignettes on people and politicians in a town undergoing de-industrialization. The stories are interesting, but I don't get the high praise for this book. It doesn't really contribute to the larger discussion of inequality and globalization or politics. Other books have done a much better job at really explaining the processes that led to these plant closings and what it has done to people and towns. There are also books on right wing politics like those practiced by Paul Ryan and Scott Walker. I guess this book humanizes the people suffering from the displacement, but I already saw them as human. I know these people. I grew up in places where this is happening.
Profile Image for P.
134 reviews18 followers
October 23, 2021
Janesville is, at heart, human-interest journalism. Which is fine, as far as that approach allows, and at times the book really is heartwrenching. But I expected a book with specific policy analysis and recommendations, or at the very least investigative journalism. Goldstein quickly reveals the neoliberalism necessitated by her position at the Washington Post. She’s not so much outraged by the political and corporate system that perpetuates the war on the working class, as she is befuddled and willfully ignorant. Rather than explicitly condemn General Motors, the Obama administration, and the GOP for their utter lack of concern for American workers, she writes from a gratingly “objective” perspective. The real enemies of this story are Obama and his cronies (some of whom went on to cushy academic positions), various members of the GOP (Paul Ryan and Scott Walker chief among them), local billionaire Diane Hendricks (a union-buster and, later, major contributor to the Trump presidential campaign), and GM leadership.

Poverty, inequity of opportunity, union-busting, substance abuse, homeless teens, suicide: none of this is news to people that do a modicum of paying attention. For whom was this book written? Perhaps the political class, so they can pat themselves on the back for their “awareness”. What actionable insights does it provide? None. And that's ultimately the problem. There is a whiff of policy analysis: retraining is almost universally agreed upon and funded by Republicans and Democrats, but job creation itself is left to the whims of C-suite execs, themselves the beneficiaries of corporate welfare. The displaced workers that decided to get an education at the local community college ended up doing much worse than their former colleagues that didn't get a degree (but all of them are much worse off overall than with their previous union-negotiated middle class wages). But analyses like these are underdeveloped at best, and if you blink you'll miss them.
Profile Image for James.
474 reviews9 followers
June 14, 2017
Sometimes, at the library, I’ll pick up a book at random based solely on the cover or the title and start reading it, ignoring the dust jacket and blurbs on the back. That’s what I did with Janesville—and I’m so glad I did. Were I asked, “Want to read a book about a town in Wisconsin that suffered after a GM plant closed?” I would have passed, not out of coldheartedness but because there are only so many hours in the day to read what grabs us.

This book is a great achievement for several reasons. The structure and interweaving narratives are handled skillfully—and by focusing on this array of people. Goldstein offer a mosaic of life after the plant’s closing. It’s also, in its style, an example of the clarity that Strunk and White urged on all of us.

What I found most remarkable, however, was the nearly-apolitical stance from which the tale is told. So much writing about economics and the nation’s current challenges is marked by finger-pointing. I never got a sense of that from this book. She doesn't point fingers; she gestures towards a display of people. I was surprised to read the blurbs on the back, which (I think falsely) characterize Janesville as a political anti-Trump screed. It's not, so if you're hoping to read something you can use as ammo against your cousin who's a Trump supporter, you'll be disappointed. The book is so much better than that.
Profile Image for Rachel Blakeman.
138 reviews7 followers
June 21, 2017
This is a solid 4-star book. It was what I was hoping "Glass House" was going to be but wasn't. Despite what my profile says, I live in Fort Wayne so I felt a geographic connection to the storyline for the GM gypsies and the descriptions about Fort Wayne although limited were accurate. Like the comment on the back cover from Robert Putnam says, this is an extension of the themes in "Hillbilly Elegy" but on a community-wide level.

I have lived my entire life in the industrial Midwest where I have watched good-paying low-skill jobs dry up. This was an insight into the lives of rural, white working class folks that are facing a new and unpleasant economic reality. The characters make it read like a novel. Highly recommend for my fellow Midwesterners and people who want to understand the slow roll of decline.
Profile Image for Casey TF.
40 reviews
September 26, 2020
It’s a great book. The author did a really nice job presenting everyone and it lays out a compelling economic story. I did feel like I had more of a connection with the characters due to personal experiences in a similar town. When I was 16, my mom left my dad and moved us from Phoenix to a working-class town in Southeast Michigan (to reunite with an old boyfriend who worked in a plant that made seats for Ford Mustangs). It was a town also completely dependent on the auto industry and devastated when the economy collapsed in 2008. It was an experience living there, having not grown up there or anywhere like there. With that said, while I don’t usually write long reviews, with this book I couldn’t wait to put my two cents in.

First of all- these over idealizing types, like Paul Ryan, Mary the banker, and Diane the moneybags- classic small midwestern town big shots. I went to high school with guys like Paul Ryan, nose up in the air from being born with a silver-plated spoon in their mouth in a town where their family does better than most. It seems to me that while this type likes to laud their “small town” upbringing as some way of keeping themselves humble or centered, they often seem to stick around because they prefer being a big fish in a little pond.

They are brought up to feel superior to anyone who falls in lower income brackets, as if they live in some sort of caste system bubble of America. They are usually set in life to inherit some kind of family owned insurance office, or real estate or construction business, without ever having to prove themselves to anyone except their own tight knit family. Because of their relative to the area wealth, they get a bunch of hangers-on who help inflate their ego too, of course, even if they don't relate to most in their town. When it comes to those less fortunate than themselves, they are quick to try and apply social Darwinism and not recognize any of their own privilege. They're convinced of their own specialness. But they’ll be sure to have a box for the canned food drive front and center in the front lobby of whatever business they inherited! And sit front and center in church, which in my experience is usually done more for social clout than personal enrichment. Anything to make them feel/look like they're a good person.

This is why Paul Ryan’s own home town didn’t vote for him. He isn’t one of them. The fact that although Bob spent YEARS inviting Paul Ryan to the Janesville job center and Ryan not only never visited, he also didn’t even know who Bob was when he handed him his business card at Paul, Mary, and Diane’s little “pat ourselves on the back because we are tired of ‘crabby bloggers’ attacking us banquet,” toward the end of the book, shows this. ESPECIALLY after Ryan got up at that same banquet to say that people who need help in their lives should look not to government, but to resources within their own communities. What a hypocrite.

And for all of Mary’s big talk of being such an advocate for the community - because one time when she was a kid her mom had to use food stamps, or because some acquaintance of her daughter’s cried and made her kids feel bad- she seems just fine to not only act as Diane’s peon, but also perfectly okay with seeing her community bank get bought out. And Diane? Yeah, I’m sorry, but anyone who is willing to lick Scott walker’s cheeks like she does, and later donate major money to the Trump campaign… yet only creates what, 150 jobs (through SHINE) on her “taskforce” for job building in Janesville – is maybe putting her business or religious interests ahead of community interests and using twisted justifications to reason with herself and others as to why.

With that said, I do have to say that I agree unions were getting ridiculous. Unions are supposed to be this great alliance for protection of workers- but in my experience of living in Michigan, they were more like their own little mafia, just like Paul Ryan has his familial “Irish Mafia.” As with in the book, in my experience, the only people that got hired for the big paying union auto jobs were the relatives of people who already worked there. And once you’re in, you’re set no matter how bad you screw up. I remember Ford people laughing about getting drunk on their lunches, which is exactly why I have never bought a Ford. I knew of one guy who went to prison, got out, and the union got him his auto job back. Why are these people deserving of big pay plus awesome benefits, and immunity from losing it? In the real world they’re not, but when you're Tom’s nephew and Larry’s son, and they’re both union and work there as well, you were just set. How is that fair to everyone else, how is that giving people a fair shake to get also get a cushy job? It isn’t, and it’s rather unAmerican if you ask me.

And I’m not anti-labor- but if we are being honest with ourselves, was GM assembly line work at that time worth that kind of pay plus major bennies? Why exactly did they deserve more than say Lear? Although it sucks GM took so much in the bailout and still closed the plant, I do think unions played a big hand in driving big auto jobs out in this timeframe. By the end of the book, factory jobs are coming back, and Janesville is under 4% unemployment, but the jobs don’t pay anything close to what GM did. I think that kind of says it was the pay/bennies more than anything that drove factory jobs out.

More disturbing, many people in Janesville still don’t seem to fully understand how lucky they were to ever even have had it to begin with. Most people in the workforce in small midwestern towns prior to 2008 never had the luxury of making $28 an hour plus overtime and benefits, without an education, unable to be fired, while standing on a mindless assembly line. The fact that some of them felt so entitled to what they’d lost that they later began attacking teachers as having it too good was ridiculous to me. A teacher should be valued more than someone on an assembly line, I’m sorry.

Yes, I understand that for a community who had come to rely on those higher paying factory jobs to be there, this is really hard and of course they lament the jobs leaving. But should America really be a big assembly line jobs place anymore? We're progressing, and with any progression, there is blowback and people who get screwed by it and need help to recover. Shouldn’t we as a country just GET that by now and act accordingly? Just as innovation is disruptive, as any former printing press business could have told us, so is progression. But that doesn’t mean we should be expected to rally to move backward so that people can keep making a good living working on an assembly line doing a job they didn’t enjoy – and most of the people in this book, at one time or another, state that they did not enjoy their factory job, only the pay. We should be more focused on getting them past it, getting them computer trained, whatever we have to do- not corporate welfare. I get that the whole system is so whacked right now that even the former auto workers who became U-Rock graduates had trouble getting jobs- making the money poured into their educations seem like a waste- but i don't think the answer is just to give up on teaching people they need to be trained in something and not depend on a good unskilled labor job to fall into their laps.

And personally, I didn't get why many were so set on staying in town, and encouraging their children to stay in town. I get that family is important, but so is survival and supporting yourself in a manner that satisfies your life. The “GM gypsies” really confused me- why would you work four hours away, and only see you wife and kids on the weekends, so that they can continue to live in the same town as their aunts and uncles? Keep the family together, move them with you, teach your kids there’s a world outside their bubble and they made need to go out into it to learn a way to survive on their own – and travel the four hours home to see the aunts and uncles once a month. Added financial bonus of not having to set up two households, too. I would have short sale-d the house and been gone. I mean I know to each their own, but as a military wife that one made absolutely no sense to me. My kids are not scarred from not having aunts and uncles down the street.

Anyway, it’s a good read to help understand these factory towns, although I don’t really buy that Beloit was segregated from Janesville by choice. In my own Michigan town, black people all still lived on one side of the train tracks, but that’s a whole other conversation about race- particularly how low-income whites are taught to pit themselves against low-income blacks. I definitely came away feeling we need more people like Bob, Tim, Deri and Ann out there helping to come up with solutions, and less people like Scott Walker and Paul Ryan making it worse. Because if these jobs aren’t coming back, and they aren’t, they must be content with the standard of living being gutted in these towns they “love” so much. They certainly aren’t interested in doing anything that actually helps the people they see as less than themselves find a new path in life.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Pamela.
423 reviews20 followers
March 11, 2019
Two days before Christmas in 2008, the oldest GM plant in the nation rolled out its last SUV from the assembly line and closed its doors in Janesville, Wisconsin. When it did, over three thousand men and women from this plant were left without work. Janesville is the story of what happened next.

Amy Goldstein, a writer for The Washington Post moved to Janestown and lived there for years in order to get to know people and truly understand the impact GM's closing had on the town. It was enormous. The plant's closing started a domino effect with first the Lear plant which made seats for GM closing, then small parts manufacturers, retail stores whose customers no longer had jobs or money. Grocery stores lost business, day care centers, entertainment venues, restaurants. The effect was widespread and turned a town that had been an idyllic example of middle-class American life into one struggling to maintain a working poor level and having trouble with that. Eventually, approximately 9000 people had lost their jobs.

The stories in Janesville are personal and poignant. Gm Gypsies - men, who because of their seniority were eligible for transfer rights drive almost three hundred miles every week to work at a GM plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana in order to maintain their high wage scale. Hundreds of men and women who try to retrain for other jobs through the local 2yr college who can't even turn on a computer and end up dropping out when they discover they can't turn in a paper written in longhand. Twin teenage girls who hold down 5 jobs between them to help support their family and save for college only to be told they make to much money to qualify for most aid and have to take out loans.

There is a lot in this book to digest. Things that maybe we all need to re-look in terms of public policy.
Profile Image for David.
507 reviews35 followers
September 27, 2019
3.5 stars.

Amy Goldstein depicts the impact of the closure of the dominant employer (GM) on a handful of people and the town they live in (Janesville, WI). The stories of the displaced employees are told sympathetically and make for interesting and thought provoking reading. Families that once donated to food pantries eventually find themselves in dire need of their services. Homelessness climbs. Education and retraining programs are costly and of limited help. Remedies are scarce.

Goldstein isn't overtly hostile to former politicians Paul Ryan and Scott Walker but they're not portrayed with the warmth given to the people who were plunged into financial insecurity. Your political views should be your guide in your decision to read the book.

The closure happened in 2008; the author mentions a prevailing hourly wage of $28 plus health benefits. That wage appears to be the ticket to a solid middle class life in Janesville around that time. After the plant closure a few other local suppliers go out of business and unemployment rates climb further. Goldstein examines the response by the Janesville business leaders as well as the federal, state and local political leaders. (Scott Walker was the Republican governor of Wisconsin and Paul Ryan was a Republican U.S. Congressman and a Janesville resident.)

The chapters are very short and straightforward. This book is more about compelling human storytelling than economic analysis.
Profile Image for Anna.
514 reviews5 followers
February 15, 2019
What's interesting is how easily the Republican fu*kery to screw over the working class also quickly divides working class Americans amongst each other. That's something that isn't outwardly stated in the book, but comes up a lot with many examples used. Scott Walker fueling anti-teacher sentiment (seriously, what kind of assholes blames economic woes on teachers?) as a way to start busting Wisconsin unions is pretty low. Maybe not as low as Paul Ryan blaming unions for giving workers a sense of entitlement to fair wages. In fact they're both pretty much raging a$sholes serving only their corporate overloards, PACS, and the other "people of means". Something I saw recently on twitter made me laugh, "I don't think I'm as afraid of anything as every billionaire is apparently afraid of becoming a hundred-millionare."

But to my original point. One of the things this book highlighted repeatedly was the war on unions from the Republican representatives. The idea of workers collectively bargaining and having a say in their work place seems to be antithetical to everything the Republicans in this book stood for. There's a scene where Scott Walker promises a prominent donor that one of his first pieces of legislation will be to weaken the unions. How can you be for the rights of the "working class" if you're against something as fundamentally important as unions? How can we say that we're trying to help the American worker when we see CEO's of companies like GM get millions and millions in bonuses and "retirement packages" while the workers are under water with the mortgages? But the thing is, instead of realizing how colossally f'ed up all of it is, some within Janesville began turning on each other. Retired GM workers who were living off their pension were yelling at teachers for being in unions and having pensions. Some people were secretively glad that the "uppity GMers" with their previously Union negotiated contracts with their "cushy" wages and benefits were suddenly unable to afford their middle class lifestyles - so they could then convince them it was the union's fault they were in this position. It's absolutely insane.

There were some interesting things I learned from this book. The few things both Democrats and Republicans can agree on in situations like this don't necessarily work. One is importance of retraining workers after massive unemployment like this. But what they've found is that the people who took the opportunity to go to Blackhawk Technical and do the job retraining found it harder to find jobs afterwards. The ones that got jobs post retraining had lower wages than the people who didn't go into retraining. Number two is the importance of a community to come together and help those in need. For a place like Janesville to lose their GM plant which caused a catastrophic domino effect, the influx of need that happened in town completely overloaded the systems they had in place. The people who had previously donated to the food banks suddenly needed the help of the food pantries.

The author did try to incorporate the beginnings of the Occupy movement in the book, but I felt that it was slightly out of place with the tight narrative of the individual stories that we had been focusing on. While it is something that is important to mention, especially when the book took a look outside of Janesville, I felt as though it needed to focus on someone within the movement or the view point of someone from Janesville.

I also think that there could have been more hard numbers and facts in this book. While it's an interesting narrative following a lot of stories of people from Janesville, I would have liked more information and data to go along with some of the things stated by different people.

Edit to add: I also want to say that, I don't think the Obama administration comes off very well either. Though they made a show of wanting to help the people laid off by the auto industry not just in Janesville but all across the country, not much came of it. I can understand the frustration felt by the people who were watching the auto industry (and banks) get billions of bailout and not feeling a penny of (direct) trickle down. A lot of jobs were saved, a lot of people were able to become "GM gypsies", but for the people that weren't directly impacted - I can see the anger. The WH director of the council on automotive communities and workers, Ed Montgomery, went on a listening tour to ostensibly listen to the plight of auto workers all across the country. The point was to show people that they had a direct line to the WH with no red tape. Montgomery basically leveraged this into another job, the council got rolled into something within another department and all the communities got were phone numbers to a liaison who couldn't tell them anything because of all the red tape. Nothing makes people feel better than being ignored at a time of crisis.

I also want to add that this brings to the forefront another topic of discussion. Politics for 2016 and beyond seems to be all about white working men. Not even going to touch the underlying racism and sexism involved there, but there are some hard truths that need to get touched on. Coal mining jobs are not coming back. Manufacturing jobs that haven't moved away are increasingly more efficiently done by robots/AI (even in the places those jobs have moved to). Janesville is not the first, nor is it the last (nor the only during the Recession), affected by a boom/bust. Instead of allowing politicians to go on with false promises of bringing those dying jobs back, they should be championing new industries and retraining programs and moving incentives for those that need it... And for the love of everything, stop attacking Unions. I had a lot more but then I deleted it. I'll save that for pillow talk or something with my husband. The point is, vote in all your local elections, vote in the midterms, and vote in the presidential elections.
Profile Image for Siv30.
2,301 reviews121 followers
October 16, 2017
במשך 85 שנים, ג'אנסוויל היתה עיר היצור של ג'נרל מוטורס שבה ייצרו את השברולט. במפעל הועסקו מאות מתושבי העיר שהצליחה לשגשג ולהיות בית למשפחות מעמד הביניים שמימשו את החלום האמריקאי. אבל יום אחד, בשנת 2008, החלום האמריקאי הזה מתנפץ, כשהמפעל נסגר ואלפי משפחות איבדו את מקור פרנסתן.

"Keeping up appearances, trying to hide the ways that pain is seeping in, is one thing that happens when good jobs go away and middle-class people tumble out of the middle class."

הספר של איימי גולדשטיין עוקב אחר כרוניקה של משבר בין השנים 2009 ועד שנת 2013 כשהאפילוג עוסק בהווה, בו בג'אנסוויל ישנם רק כ- 4% מובטלים (לעומת 34% בשיא). חלק יאמרו שזה הישג, אבל המחיר החברתי והאישי של ההישג הזה הוא אדיר: השכר הריאלי של העובדים נחתך בחצי, משפחות רבות חיות על סף עוני, משפחות התפרקו, שיעור ההתאבדויות הכפיל את עצמו, האיגודים המקצועיים שדאגו לעובד וזכויותיו סורסו והעיר שקודם היתה מופת לאחדות ומחוייבות קהילתית מפולגת בזעם וטינה שמאפיינים גם ערים אחרות שנפגעו מהשפל הכלכלי.

"The evidence is thin that job training in the United States is an effective way to lead laid-off workers back into solid employment."

מסקנה אכזרית אחת של הספר המטלטל הזה, היא שספק אם הסבה מקצועית עוזרת לטפל בתופעת האבטלה. רבים מהתושבים של ג'אנסוויל שנרשמו ללימודי הסבת מקצוע, לא היו בעלי כישורים בסיסיים לסטודנט עכשווי כמו כישורי מחשב. רבים נשרו במהלך הלימודים וגם כשסיימו ללמוד לא הובטחה לה�� עבודה בשכר ראוי. התהליך של ההסבה משפיל ומבזה ולעבור אותו בגיל מאוחר כשהאדם חסר כישורים בסיסיים מצריך אומץ. הגרוע ביותר הוא שבסופו כשהתלמיד מסיים את לימודיו, בהצלחה, מחזר על הפתחים לכל עבודה שלא תהיה, גם דמי האבטלה נגזלים ממנו, והביטוח הרפואי והאדם נותר בלי ברירה אמיתית. איימי גולדשטיין מצאה שהסבירות שעובד שעבר הסבה מקצועית ישתכר שכר נמוך מעובד שלא עבר הסבה כזו, מה שמעמיד באור מאוד שלילי את פרוייקט ההסבה המקצועית שנועד כנראה רק עבור הסיסמאות שמפזרים הפוליטיקאים שמעוניינים לזרוע אופטימיות חסרת בסיס.

"Because to Sharon and Blackhawk’s instructors, the most surprising fact about these arriving factory workers was how many of them didn’t know how to use a computer— didn’t even know how to turn one on."

אחד הדברים הנוראיים בספר היא תגובת השרשרת שלאחר סגירת המפעל: מפעלי לווין שהיו נותנים שירותים למפעל המרכזי נסגרים וגם משם האנשים מפוטרים. נסגרות חנויות כי אין לאנשים כסף להוציא. היקף התרומות מצטמצם מאותה סיבה. הילדים מתחילים להגיע לבית הספר מוזנחים ורעבים כי אין להורים כסף להאכיל את הילדים, הם קודם צריכים לשלם את המשכנתא שלהם אחרת הם גם ימצאו עצמם ברחוב. הם לא יכולים למכור את הדירה או החווה או הבית הפרטי שבו גרו כי אין מי שיקנה את הבתים הללו וגם בדרך כלל המשכנתא היתה מעבר לערך של הבית כך שגם אם היו מוכרים, היו נותרים עם משכנתא אותה לא כיסו.

"Besides, the people who went to Blackhawk are not earning as much money. Before the recession, their wages had been about the same as for other local workers. By this summer, the people who have found a new job without retraining are being paid, on average, about 8 percent less than they were paid before. But those who went to Blackhawk are being paid, on average, one third less than before."

מתפתח מעמד של "צועני ג'אנסוויל". מפוטרים שעמדה להם הברירה לנסוע לערים אחרות מרוחקות שעה, שעתיים ושלוש למפעל של ג'נרל מוטורס בכדי לעבוד בשכר שבו היו רגילים לעבוד בג'אנסוויל, 28 דולר לשעה. הנוודות הזו מובילה לפרימת התא המשפחתי. עתה בני משפחה נפגשים רק בסופי שבוע למספר שעות.

ג'אנסוויל הוא תיאור מצמרר, עצוב וכואב של הנזק שגורמות תקוות אבודות:
היאחזות בתקוות שווא כמזור לבעיות שורשיות והעדר טיפול נכון בהן, רק מעמיק את הבעיות ובמקרה של ג'אנסוויל לדעתי האישית – הניתוב שעשה הממשל של כספי המיסים מעמד הביניים להצלת התאגידים והחברות פושטות הרגל בתקווה שאלה יצרו מקומות עבודה. אותם מקומות עבודה שלמעשה לא נוצרים וכשהם נוצרים מדובר בתוספת אינקרמנטלית זעירה להשקעה של משלם המיסים בהם. בהמשך לספרים אחרים שקראתי בחודשים אחרים הממשל האמריקאי בחר לכסות על פשעים ועוולות של רמאים וגנבים ולשדוד פשוטו כמשמעו את מעמד הביניים עד שזה נשאר עירום, רעב ורועד. גם אצלנו בארץ זה לא שונה.

אחת מהתובנות שמציגה איימי גולדשטיין, היא שהדבר הקשה ביותר לילדים וגם למבוגרים הוא לקבל את מצבם החדש כעניים. העניים החדשים של ג'אנסוויל מתביישים בעוני שלהם ואינם מבקשים עזרה. גם הפוליטיקאים וגם הציבור מתקשה ליצור את הקשר שבין אותם אמריקאים שנלחמים על פרנסתם לבין העניים הנזקקים לסיוע.

זהו סיפור טראגי של "הניתוח הצליח, אבל החולה מת" והוא נוגע לא רק לג'אנסוויל אלא לערים תעשיתיות נוספות בארה"ב. במובנים מסויימים זהו גם הסבר לסיפור הצלחתו של דונאלד טראמפ.

איימי גולדשטיין אומנם לא חזתה את עלייתו של טראמפ, אבל אני משערת שאחרי מכירת סוף עונת החלומות של אובמה (במהלך אחד ממסעי הבחירות שלו ב 2008 הוא הגיע לג'אנסוויל ואמר שהמפעל יעבוד עוד מאה שנים - פחחחחח מספר חודשים לאחר מכן הודיע ג'נרל מוטורס על פשיטת רגל וכמובן הממשל רץ עם תוכנית הצלה שעלתה מליוני דולרים ולא בדיוק עזרה לעובדים של ג'אנסוויל) שהביאה למעמד הביניים האמריקאי כלום ועוד קצת כלום, מליוני משפחות של גיבורים עצובים ומאמינים שהתרסקו אל קרקע המציאות חשבו לעצמם "למה לא, מה כבר יכול להיות גרוע יותר". לפחות טראמפ מצייץ אליהם בגובה העיניים בלי להיות פוליטיקלי קורקט ואז לתקוע להם סכין בגב. אני חושבת שהספר כל כך חזק בגלל שהוא עוקב באופן כרונולוגי ואישי אחר גורלן של מספר דמויות מרכזיות לאורך השנים.

ספר מומלץ בחום.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,409 reviews316 followers
April 4, 2019
Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein has won many accolades, including 100 Notable Books in 2017 from the New York Times Book Review and the McKinsey Business Book of the Year.

Goldstein presents the story of a town and its people coping with the closing of the GM factory and how the town and families worked to reinvent themselves.

Janesville, WI was a tight-knit community with a successful history of factories beginning with cotton mills in the late 19th c, including Parker Pens and the GM auto assembly plant and the factories that supplied it.

The book covers five years, beginning in 2008 with Paul Ryan, a Janesville native, receiving the phone call from GM informing him of their decision to close the Janesville plant. Goldstein portrays the impact on employees and their families: the cascading job losses, the ineffectual retraining programs, the engulfing poverty, the men who take employment at plants in other states and see their families a few hours a week, teenagers working to help keep food on the table while preparing for college.

This is one of those non-fiction books that is engrossing while being informative, bringing readers into the struggles, successes, and failures of individual families. If you want to know about the people who have lost the American Dream, the impact of business and political decisions, and what programs 'work' and which have not delivered, then Janesville is for you.
Profile Image for Jeimy.
4,452 reviews33 followers
February 26, 2018
An Ode to a resilient town, Janesville follows some of the middle class residents of the Wisconsin in the aftermath of the closing of the General Motors assembly plant that employed many residents. The book begins just before its closing in 2008 and follows the political and social drama that ensued as not just the people who worked in the plant, but the people who manufactured their car seats, as well as those who transported and cars to and from the train station.

We read about the people who did their best to help out the down and out residents like the teacher who provided basic necessities such as shampoo, deodorant, clothing and shoes; the people who worked to educate the unemployed to find them better opportunities; and the small town politicians who tried to save the jobs first by offering incentives to G.M. so that they produced a different car in Janesville's plant and then by offering permits to refurbish the building and turn in into a different manufacturer.

Paul Ryan weaves in and out of the narrative as Janesville is his hometown. Personally, I was in shock at the abysmal treatment his constituents received and appalled that the state voted Republican in the 2016 elections. It is beyond me how the Republicans take so many social programs away from these communities and don't lose more of their base.
Profile Image for Todd N.
336 reviews234 followers
December 17, 2017
This was recommended by Riona, so I downloaded the Kindle and Audible versions. (My 2018 New Years Resolution is not to read any books without Whispersync.)

This is a worthy, if maddeningly neutral, addition to the Midwest-in-decline-porn genre of book that is so popular among certain types of readers these days.

It follows the effect of a GM plant closure, the major employer, on the town of Janesville, WI from 2008 through 2013. The plant closure is more or less a foregone conclusion, so the book looks at the way this impacts the community by focusing on a few families and the decisions they make and the aid available to them.

This is a very different book than Hillbilly Elegy because that book is one person’s memoir about rising above a dysfunctional family within a broken community that is not atypical in the lower middle-class Midwest.

In contrast, Janesville, WI is a completely intact, civic-minded community at the start of the book. [[[Aside: The book doesn’t get into the history of redlining, favorable tax laws, etc., that allows an affluent community like this to accumulate wealth in the first place, but I guess it’s not completely necessary for the story.]]]

But once the plant shuts down, a few days before Christmas 2008, the fabric of the town slowly unravels. Ms. Goldstein chronicles this year by year.

Some GM workers wind up commuting to Ft. Wayne every week. [[[Aside: I’m pretty sure I lived in the same apartment complex that they do in the book when I was a co-op student in college.]]] The less lucky ones take a crappy buy out ($4k and 6 months insurance) and fall into a series of steadily crappier and lower paying jobs.

Some go back to school, and Ms. Goldstein uncovers data showing that job retraining does not work. People that go back to school (1) are less likely to find jobs and (2) make less money than people who don’t go back to school. Good thing most of the ex-factory workers drop out when they find out they can’t turn in papers by long hand and have to use a computer. Also, a lot of them have middle school level proficiency at math.

Ms. Goldstein also shows how feckless most of the government programs (and government bureaucrats) are, especially one program specifically created by Obama designed to help areas affected by plant shutdowns. Meanwhile, the government is spending billions of dollars bailing out the auto companies.

The town leaders create plans and committees but gradually fall out of touch with the severity of what is happening to their town. They get to point where they don’t like all the “negativity.”

The only charity that actually seems to work is a closet in the high school that contains clothes and toiletries for kids. Teachers discreetly take kids there and let them take whatever they need. Some teachers even monitor social media to see what kids might need some charity. Counselors used to do this, but Gov Scott Walker (villain) cut the state budget so there’s only one in Janesville.

My main problem with this book is that it makes the auto workers seem very passive, with no agency and very innocent. Like they enter the factory floor and then are suspended in warm gel.

I grew up in a Rust Belt town with family and parents of friends that worked similar jobs, so I rolled my eyes at this conceit. I recommend reading Rivethead by Ben Hamper for a more realistic taste.

These factory guys love their toys, and you can see glimpses of that in the book. One family mentions having a pool, two snowmobiles, and two ATVs. And of course they have two mortgages, $1k of equity in their house, $5k in savings, and they are a family of five with the parents in their mid-30s.

It would be great if the book would investigate this mindset, how it contributed to the decline of Janesville, and how/if it changed at all in the following years.

The most shocking moment in the book is when a teacher is being yelled at in a grocery store by an ex-factory worker. Gov. Scott Walker (villain) decided to cut benefits for the public sector unions as part of the new state budget.

So this guy is yelling at the teacher and accusing him of being a “fat cat” and saying “You’re finally getting yours,” just because he has a steady job like the majority of the town did a few years ago. Another teacher told Ms. Goldstein that she did her shopping late at night so that she wouldn’t run into anyone. (This was pre-Sandy Hook, by the way. After that teachers were heroes again.)

I guess it goes to show that the white working class can be pretty much be made to scapegoat anyone, even their kids’ teachers.

Anyway, highly recommended though depressing. It’s like the prequel to Hillbilly Elegy. This is Revenge of the Sith to his Empire Strikes Back.

Also if your local high school has a closet for clothes and toiletries, be sure to donate to it. I didn’t know that was a thing until I read this book.
Profile Image for Lisa Robbins.
314 reviews7 followers
February 6, 2018
This is an incredibly sad look at what happens to a city when the primary employer is no longer there. GM was a crucial part of jobs in Janesville, WI for decades. In 2008 the plant closed, along with local companies that supplied it. The effect was devastating to the economy of the city. This was shortly followed by the Parker Pen factory closing, after several buyouts and lay offs. I grew up about 25 miles from Janesville. I always remembered it as a nice city that seemed to be pretty well off. I left Wisconsin before the closing of the plants so I didn’t see first hand the devastation left by GM and Parker Pen closing. I do know, however, the importance those companies had to the city. The personal stories of those affected were touching and heartbreaking. It was interesting to hear the different paths people left jobless by the closings took. The stories of teenagers left homeless, or having to get multiple jobs to help their families survive were especially sad. Unfortunately it isn’t just Janesville that has seen these problems, but manufacturing cities all over the US. With time, hopefully all these cities will be able to rise again.
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