When Jobs Disappear: Tracking Shift From N.C. To China; And How People Cope : The Two-Way When furniture jobs disappeared from Lenoir, N.C., it was like a neutron bomb went off. Now, the town is recovering.
NPR logo

When Jobs Disappear: Tracking Shift From N.C. To China; And How People Cope

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/114437940/121513567" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
When Jobs Disappear: Tracking Shift From N.C. To China; And How People Cope

When Jobs Disappear: Tracking Shift From N.C. To China; And How People Cope

You know how we — reporters — always do stories about people getting laid off, but we rarely follow up to see where they end up? Well, beginning today, I get to lay out the rest of the story.

I started reporting on laid-off furniture workers in Lenoir, a town in North Carolina, more than two years ago. They'd lost their jobs to China. Okay, a fairly typical globalization story.

Then, Google decided to build a data center in the community. Some laid-off workers went back to college to learn info technology and try to make the leap from manufacturing to the knowledge economy.

The first story runs this afternoon on All Things Considered.

I don't want to give too much away, but there are a several things I got out of these stories that I should have appreciated as a labor reporter but really didn't:

— The speed of globalization is now blinding. These people had been working at local factories for decades. Then, seemingly one day, the dam broke and the jobs just started pouring overseas. It was like a neutron bomb went off, the buildings were still standing but the workers were gone. Years later, many people are still trying to put their lives back together.

Here's how one person, Bill Curtis, described the shock. He went from feeling like he'd done something wrong to feeling betrayed:

When Jobs Disappear: Tracking Shift From N.C. To China; And How People Cope

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/114437940/121513567" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

— Many workers face enormous challenges adapting to new jobs. People who lose jobs in fading industries not only have to develop new skills, but have to compete with lots of other people for prized work. You'll hear more about that in Thursday's story when we find out who got a job at Google and who didn't.

— Maybe the biggest surprises for me, though, come in Friday's story. I got to track the old North Carolina furniture jobs to China. I went inside factory after factory where much of the furniture that fills our homes is now made. Workers there were doing better than you might expect; until the U.S. housing market collapsed. Again, the speed of economic globalization — and the way it connects all our lives — was astonishing to watch.

(Frank Langfitt has been an NPR business correspondent since December 2004. Click here to find an NPR station near you that broadcasts ATC.)