The problems of poverty in America’s small towns

Book review: JanesvilleWashington Post journalist Amy Goldstein focuses on how the lives of ordinary Americans are affected by industrial decline.

861-book-janesville-150

Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential election has led to a surge in interest in the problems of poverty in America's small towns and rural areas. Goldstein, a journalist at The Washington Post, is the latest to focus on the topic, with this book "about the ordinary people of Janesville in southern Wisconsin, and how they lost their jobs, their pride and their future when General Motors closed its oldest assembly plant there in 2008", says Patti Waldmeir in the Financial Times. It captures "the pain of breadwinners who no longer are, of stay-at-home moms who must suddenly support everyone, of teens who take two or three after-school jobs to help pay their parents' grocery bills".

Goldstein "opts for complexity over facile explanations and easy polemics", notes Jennifer Senior in The New York Times. For example, she shows that unemployment in Janesville has now fallen back to pre-crisis levels, yet "real wages in the town have fallen", "marriages have collapsed" and "unity and native spirit has capitulated to the same partisan rancour that afflicts the rest of the nation". And her findings go against the consensus on how to tackle this. "In the case of the many laid-off workers in the Janesville area, the outcomes are decidedly worse for those who have attended the local technical college to learn a new trade."

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

"Goldstein is a talented storyteller, and we root for her characters as, moment by moment, they try their hardest," says Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker. Indeed, what makes this so "haunting" is that "the people of Janesville do nearly everything right". Despite their efforts, "the mostly immovable reality" is that industrial decline means that "there is no way out of the maze". Meanwhile, "the same politicians who tell hopeful stories about hardworking Americans find it hard to talk about helping the needy, even when those two apparently disparate groups of people are, in fact, the same".

Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/spending-it/films/600911/theatre-review-the-visit
Films

Theatre review: The Visit

Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Swiss classic The Visit, transported to 1950s America, poses the question: how much would you kill for?
28 Feb 2020
Visit/519325/six-contrarian-books-for-christmas
Films

Six contrarian books for Christmas

Merryn Somerset Webb picks six of her favourite contrarian books to help you look clever and perhaps win a few arguments over the Christmas dinner tab…
9 Dec 2019
Visit/513323/coming-to-terms-with-anna-sorokin
Films

Coming to terms with Anna Sorokin

My Friend Anna: The true story of the fake heiress of New York CityWilliams is a solid writer who does a good job of explaining how she, and other int…
21 Aug 2019
Visit/513324/book-in-the-news-the-inside-story-of-spains-tumultuous-crisis
Films

Book in the news… the inside story of Spain’s tumultuous crisis

After the Fall Crisis, Recovery and the Making of a New SpainA book that goes beyond politics to offer a deeply sympathetic portrayal of a country.
21 Aug 2019

Most Popular

Visit/investments/property/601081/three-things-matter-for-the-uk-housing-market-now-and
Property

Three things matter for the UK housing market now – and “location” isn’t one of them

The UK housing market is frozen. And when it does eventually thaw out, the traditional factors that drive prices will no longer apply. The day of reck…
1 Apr 2020
Visit/investments/stockmarkets/601101/has-the-stockmarket-hit-rock-bottom-yet
Stockmarkets

Has the stockmarket hit rock bottom yet?

The world's stockmarkets continue on their wild and disorientating rollercoaster ride. Investors are still gripped by fear. So, asks John Stepek, have…
2 Apr 2020
Visit/investments/property/601065/what-does-the-coronavirus-crisis-mean-for-uk-house-prices
Property

What does the coronavirus crisis mean for UK house prices?

With the whole country in lockdown, the UK property market is closed for business. John Stepek looks at what that means for UK house prices, housebuil…
27 Mar 2020
Visit/investments/commodities/energy/oil/601107/oil-shoots-higher-have-we-seen-the-bottom-for-the-big-oil
Oil

Oil shoots higher – have we seen the bottom for the big oil companies?

Just a few days ago everyone was worried about negative oil prices. Now, the market has turned upwards. John Stepek explains what’s behind the rise an…
3 Apr 2020