3. Falling out of the middle class
By next week, a St. Louis property developer called Commercial Development Company must decide whether it will buy a shuttered, 94-year-old GM assembly plant in Janesville, Wisconsin. Whatever happens, the plant's prominence — and that of Janesville itself — in U.S. industrial history is past, vanquished by the same forces that have unraveled the fabric of so many storied manufacturing towns, and with it shaken up politics fundamentally.
This week, the Washington Post's Amy Goldstein won the FT/McKinsey Business Book of 2017 for Janesville: An American Story, her well-timed account — the result of six years of immersive research — of what happened when one company town went south.
Janesville is and isn't the story of Donald Trump's America: its middle class has been wrecked by the loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs, and their replacement by lesser employment in a distribution center that the town paid millions of dollars in incentives to attract. Yet, though Democrats stayed away in droves, the town voted for Hillary Clinton last year.
I chatted with Amy yesterday. Her top takeaway:
- "Falling out of the middle class is very different from being poor all along," she said. "There's a real trauma to it." Even when everyone around you is in the same circumstance, and you are a part of the worst economy since the Great Recession, humiliation is deeply felt. "Losing a job feels very painful and personal," Goldstein said.
Go here for more of her thoughts after months of speaking about the book.