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Family takes a risk to stay in hometown

Marketplace Staff Jul 9, 2010

Family takes a risk to stay in hometown

Marketplace Staff Jul 9, 2010


Tess Vigeland: So here’s one thing everyone can agree on: If we are in a recovery, it is a jobless one. More than 15 million people are out looking for work. And for those lucky to get an offer, it could mean they’ll have to move. That is also a decision facing a thousand workers at the General Motors plant in Shreveport, La. The plant is scheduled to close sometime in the next two years. They either have to transfer or lose their job.

Kate Archer Kent of Red River Radio has our story.

Kate Archer Kent: John Hanning wakes up each morning hoping that his truck assembly plant will stay open for another day. Like other workers, he gets regular offers to transfer when positions open up at other GM plants. Hanning is four year away from drawing his GM pension, and he has decided to take a calculated gamble by not transferring before the Shreveport plant closes.

John Hanning: I’m scared if I wait too long there’s no plants for me to go to. And then after two years, I have no income through General Motors. And if I don’t get to another plant, then my children don’t have insurance. I don’t have no money coming in.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for Hanning. He and his wife don’t want to uproot their two daughters from the only home they’ve ever known. But if he loses his job, he worries how the family would pay bills and save for the girls’ education. For Hanning, the best case scenario would have the Shreveport plant stay open until the last possible closing date in 2012. Then, he’d only have to transfer away for two years before he could tap his GM pension.

Hanning: If I’m up in Indiana, Ohio, New York, Michigan, I can’t drive home on the weekends. If something happens to one of my girls, I can’t come home.

His daughter, Kara, is 15 and the athlete of the family. Twelve-year-old Caitlin is dad’s fishing partner. His family is his first thought every time he sees a new transfer opportunity on the plant’s website.

Hanning: I look at the screen every morning, and I call my wife up, “Should I put one in?” And she goes, “Summer’s here, you know what that means?”

Hanning family and others cheering at a softball game

Summer means Kara’s softball league, and John never misses a game. On a recent evening, the family sits in the bleachers chugging Gatorade and cheering on Kara in center field. Lisa Hanning says GM has been good to her family, until now.

Lisa Hanning: This has been home for 28 years. We need to be here for our family.

Her jaw tightens when I ask her how the family will get by. Lisa’s losing her job next year. She works for a federally-appointed trustee who oversees Chapter 13 bankruptcies — but he’s retiring. The Hannings have thought about using Lisa’s savings to pay off their mortgage, credit card debt, car loans and payments on land they purchased in bayou country. They had planned to build a fishing camp for their retirement.

Now, with John’s transfer looming, they’ll probably need to sell their house. The equity will help pay for an apartment in John’s transfer city and the remaining payments on the fishing camp. It will also allow Lisa and the girls to stay put in Louisiana while John finishes his 30 years with GM.

Lisa Hanning: It’s been through every emotion in the book that you could think of not knowing what’s going to happen and what our future holds.

John says they’ve stashed away little in their girls’ education fund. When he turns 49, his oldest will be heading off to college and he’ll be looking for a second career to supplement his GM pension. After the game, Kara emerges from the dugout with her bats and gear strapped to her back. She’s hoping she can land a softball scholarship to help pay her way through school.

Kara Hanning: It’s stressful, because I don’t know what’s going to happen, where we’re going to go, how the future is going to happen. But I mostly focus on what’s happening now and try not too hard to think about the future.

The Hannings huddle up for a family portrait. And Caitlin starts off the typical post-game debate: Will the girls score a treat on the way home?

Caitlin, Lisa and Kara Hanning: I want a big huge ice cream sundae. Smoothie. I want home. Some of us do have to get up early in the morning called work. I wake up early in the morning!

John and Lisa are products of a plant closure themselves. They met when they were teenagers after their parents, both GM workers, were transferred to Shreveport. But the Hannings don’t want to follow in their parents’ footsteps. They won’t make the same decision and uproot the life they’ve made here. It’s a risk they’re willing to take to be close to what’s most important to them.

In Shreveport, La., I’m Kate Archer Kent for Marketplace Money.

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