Review: Goldstein’s Janesville: AN American Story

The story of what happens to a small town in the industrial Midwest when the primary employer (here, an auto plant) closes down. We all know the broad outline of how this goes down – the fight to keep the plant open eventually fails, and the town spirals down economically. But how the town changes, and how individual families cope with those changes, is not something I have seen covered as well, or with as much nuance and care, before. We learn here of the people who used the closing as a chance for reinvention, and those who couldn’t really recover. Those who would compensate by driving hundred of miles for work, and others tried to rebuild the town.

It’s a complicated story, made all the more so by the national ambitions of the town’s representative in the House, Paul Ryan, who, while never afraid to use his hometown as a political backdrop, couldn’t in the end do much to save it.  I found the reporting compelling, and the story full of revelations. I was moved by the tragedies some of these families endured, and fascinated to learn that many of the ex factory workers who took the opportunity to go back to school ended up worse than their peers who’d headed straight back out into the work force.

If you care about the end of industrial America, and it is an end, these jobs are not coming back, then this book is well worth the time.


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