There was a time, not very long ago, when getting a job on the production line at a big automaker meant an instant ticket to the American dream, even for someone with little formal education. Not anymore.
"The minute you signed the paper, you were instantly vaulted into the middle class," said Mike Smith, director of Wayne State University's Walter P. Reuther Library in Detroit, named for the founder of the United Auto Workers, the union that represents auto workers.
A shrinking paycheck. As the auto industry undergoes a sea change, the government has demanded that Chrysler and General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) bring their labor costs in line with foreign competitors operating non-unionfactories in the U.S.
Today, an entry-level auto-worker will be making $14 an hour, compared to the $28 "base rate" the job had earned before, according to a summary of Chrysler's contract agreement.