The rest tried to find other work, but in the midst of the recession there mostly wasn't any:
Some decided to retrain at the local Blackhawk Technical College, hoping to gain new skills and find new careers. Yet even then, the jobs weren’t there. One former GM worker, Matt, was one of many that enrolled at Blackhawk to train to become a lineman at the local utility company, Alliant Energy. But, as a rather candid conversation with his lecturers made clear, his chances of being hired were really rather low. Indeed, between 2008 and 2011, Goldstein found that those who had re-trained after the plant’s closure were, in actual fact, less likely to find work than those who did not re-train. And even those who did find work after completing their re-training picked up much lower wages than they received at GM. As Goldstein concludes, ‘job retraining, it turned out, was not a path to more work or better pay in and around Janesville, at least not during the time when jobs were so scarce’.To me this pretty much sums up the bad mood in America; tens of thousand of people have lost good jobs and will never again earn as much as they did in the factory days. Also notice the way ownership of our expensive homes can quickly become an albatross when the economy turns sour, preventing people from moving to places where the job prospects might be better.
Yet, even after the economy had recovered, things were little better. In 2015, average incomes were still way below what they were when the GM plant was still open. Indeed this is one of the bleakest parts of Janesville: for years now, it’s been federal policy to re-train workers whose old jobs have gone so that they can ease into new jobs and avoid the dreaded ‘worker dislocation’. But, as Janesville shows, re-training doesn’t necessarily lead to new jobs let alone better ones. Unemployment levels may have now dropped to their pre-factory-closure levels, but incomes are way down, with little prospect of a revival anytime soon. While some workers have maintained pre-closure incomes – by travelling to other GM factories hundreds of miles away – the workers left behind are earning far less than they did at GM. Even when new employers come to town, the jobs on offer are nowhere near as well paid as they had been in the past. Dollar General, for instance, opened a distribution centre in Janesville, offering, on average, $16 an hour – GM once offered an average of $28 an hour.
If there is a silver lining to this story it's that while assembly work paid well, everybody hated it:
Not all residents initially saw the plant’s closure as a disaster. Some even viewed the impending end of GM in Janesville as an opportunity. One Goldstein spoke to, Bob, the executive director of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Board, felt ‘the shackle of big GM pay cheques bred complacency and tethered people to the assembly line for 30 years or 40 – for an entire working life, even if they hated the work’.If the end of factory work meant the rise of some other kind of work at comparable pay, we should probably celebrate that. But it hasn't, and that has embittered a generation.
Indeed, as Goldstein’s cast of Janesville residents make clear, no one much liked working in the plant. But they did like getting paid. Some such as Jared, a GM worker for 13 years, downright hated the work, as did his father and father-in-law. But for $28 an hour, overtime and a raft of other union benefits, plenty like Jared were prepared to do something they hated. So, as Bob quietly hoped at the time, the ‘catastrophe might prove to be an unbidden opportunity to help people find the work paths that would have suited them all along’. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen.