GALESBURG — —
Nearly a decade before the closure of the Maytag plant, Galesburg lost Butler Manufacturing and its 300 jobs. Maytag had once employed almost 3,000 people and still had about 1,600 jobs when news broke that its production would be moved to Mexico.
There is still a rail yard in town that offers about 1,000 jobs, but the town has changed. Now a total of about 1,000 people work in manufacturing, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Twenty-three percent of the population lives in poverty — 10 percent more than the state as a whole.
Unemployment now runs just under 8 percent, better than the state as a whole and certainly better than the years after the plants closed. But that's not the whole story.
"A lot of people are probably under-employed," Dion said, explaining that many people in town work part time or irregularly. "And then the jobs that filled (the gap for) those previous manufacturing jobs, they're not as well-paying as those manufacturing jobs."
The median household income in 2010 was about $33,000, according to the census That's well below the $56,000 Illinoisans average, and far less than the $40,000 to $50,000 annual incomes many Maytag workers counted on.
Obama campaigned for the U.S. Senate in town in 2003, before the factories closed. And he was back the next year, meeting with the union officials as thousands of workers faced unemployment. He talked about them in his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention, the address in which he first caught the nation's attention.
And the next year he was back again, getting an honorary degree as he spoke to graduates at Knox.
"If you want, it will be pretty easy for you to leave here today and not give another thought to towns like Galesburg and the challenges they face," he told them, urging them to do just the opposite.