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Cut Loose

Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy

Victor Tan Chen (Author)


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Years after the Great Recession, the economy is still weak, and an unprecedented number of workers have sunk into long spells of unemployment. Cut Loose provides a vivid and moving account of the experiences of some of these men and women, through the example of a historically important group: autoworkers. Their well-paid jobs on the assembly lines built a strong middle class in the decades after World War II. But today, they find themselves beleaguered in a changed economy of greater inequality and risk, one that favors the well-educated—or well-connected.

Their declining fortunes in recent decades tell us something about what the white-collar workforce should expect to see in the years ahead, as job-killing technologies and the shipping of work overseas take away even more good jobs. Cut Loose offers a poignant look at how the long-term unemployed struggle in today’s unfair economy to support their families, rebuild their lives, and overcome the shame and self-blame they deal with on a daily basis. It is also a call to action—a blueprint for a new kind of politics, one that offers a measure of grace in a society of ruthless advancement.

1. They Had It Coming
2. All This Garbage from Life: Education and the Capital Speedup
3. Decline and Fall: Hardship, Race, and the Social Safety Net
4. Half a Man: Fragile Families and the Unmarriageable Unemployed
5. Vicious Circles: The Structure of Power and the Culture of Judgment
6. Loser: The Failures of the American Dream
7. There Go I

Appendix: Research Methods and Policy Details
Victor Tan Chen is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University and the founding editor of In the Fray magazine. He is the coauthor, with Katherine S. Newman, of The Missing Class: Portraits of the Near Poor in America.

"Rich... Chen constructs a skilled analysis of overlapping issues rising from differences of race, gender and family status."—Angelia R. Wilson Times Higher Education
"The book is full of accounts, many containing moving, first-person stories of the impact on individuals and families of difficult work. . . . Recomended."—C. K. Piehl CHOICE connect
"Cut Loose is an illuminating look at the impacts of prolonged joblessness that accompanied economic restructuring for a group of long-term unemployed autoworkers in Michigan and Ontario in 2009–10."—American Journal of Sociology
"[Chen's] in-depth interviews are both empathetic and perceptive... Important."—Contemporary Sociology
"Cut Loose is the most powerful and poignant study of the effects of prolonged joblessness in today’s economy that I have read. Chen uses his skills as an interviewer to elicit moving responses from laid-off autoworkers on the impact of long unemployment spells on their finances, family life, and physical and mental health. Readers of this blockbuster book will understand why the changing economy, with its increasing inequality, puts families who once had well-paid jobs on the assembly line at risk. Chen’s illuminating and accessible study, which serves as a call to action, is a must-read."—William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Harvard University

"Cut Loose is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the costs of globalization on the ground and the efficacy of social policy for protecting citizens caught in the grip of profound economic change."—Katherine Newman, co-author of Learning to Labor in the 21st Century

Victor Chen speaks with Guy Rathbun on PRX's IdeaSphere. 

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