Cut Loose

Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy, by Victor Tan Chen (Cut Loose book front and back)

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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: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy 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.

Cut Loose was published by the University of California Press.

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Nicholas Kristof
The New York Times

Outstanding … An incisive analysis based on first-person stories of the experience of economic restructuring and prolonged joblessness for long-term unemployed autoworkers.

Labor and Employment Relations Association
Citation for the 2017 John T. Dunlop Outstanding Scholar Award

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.

—Arne L. Kalleberg
Review in the American Journal of Sociology

[Chen’s] in-depth interviews are both empathetic and perceptive … Important.

—Thomas Janoski
Review in Contemporary Sociology

With great empathy and astute analysis, Cut Loose shows the human side of economic transformations bereft of sound public policies and collectivist strategies.

Richard E. Ocejo
Associate Professor, John Jay College and the CUNY Graduate Center
Author of Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy
Review for the New Books Network

The book is full of accounts, many containing moving, first-person stories of the impact on individuals and families of difficult work.… Recommended.

C. K. Piehl
Review in CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries

Rich … Chen constructs a skilled analysis of overlapping issues rising from differences of race, gender and family status.

Angelia R. Wilson
Review in Times Higher Education

Cut Loose is the most powerful and poignant study of the effects of prolonged joblessness in today’s economy that I have read. Victor 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

In vivid prose and heartbreaking detail, Cut Loose reminds us of the human toll of the long decline of auto manufacturing. For decades the heart and soul of the Midwest, the men and women who worked for the “Big Three” have suffered monumental losses. Yet the differences in the way deindustrialization emerged in Canada and the US teaches important lessons about the importance of social policy in providing financial cushions, retraining, and medical care in the face of persistent unemployment. 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 S. Newman
Interim Chancellor of University of Massachusetts Boston
Author of Downhill from Here: Retirement Insecurity in the Age of Inequality

[Cut Loose] grabs you by the soul and starts squeezing to the point where it hurts—and I suggest that is a good thing.

Tony Trupiano
Host of The Voice of the People, BlogTalkRadio

Cut Loose provides an eye-opening contrast between the social safety nets of the U.S. and Canada and how these differences often determined how well laid-off auto workers fared during the 2008 recession. VCU Prof. Chen’s description of his fieldwork in the two countries covers a lot of sociological ground, and I was just as impressed with his political analyses and empathetic profiles of the workers (he is a former journalist with a gift for writing, so Cut Loose rarely reads like a dry sociology case study).… Highly recommended.

Dan Doernberg
President of

Victor Tan Chen does an amazing job of putting a name and real-life circumstance to some of those who we have heard only statistics about—and I think all of us would be better for reading it.

Cyrus Webb
Host of Conversations LIVE, BlogTalkRadio
Conversations Book Club, Amazon Top 500 Reviewer

It is a very sobering and thought-provoking read.

Cynthia Canty
Host of Stateside with Cynthia Canty, Michigan Radio


Read Chapter 1


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Media Archive

To read op-eds and listen to interviews I’ve done about Cut Loose, view the media archive. Media professionals can get more information in the media kit.