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A John Deere retiree in his mid-90s counted himself fortunate to be receiving monthly checks from the company’s legacy defined-benefit pension plan. “The jobs pay less than I was making when I retired,” he said. “Benefits, which didn’t cost me anything, have dropped and workers have to pay for part of their benefits.”
“It’s moved the Deere worker from middle-to-upper income to low-to-middle income,” a former city official confirmed. “It used to be that husbands could support a family and wages were high enough to buy a house.”
By most measures — from Deere’s modest $16 per hour starting wage for assembly workers to drug abuse to see-though storefronts on Lake Street, Horicon’s trajectory has been decidedly downward.
This is in a town in which three- or four-bedroom houses sell for $100,000 to $150,000. Apartments and townhouses, built toward the end of the 20th century, rent for about $500 to $700 per month. Trailer parks — like the one where the Reporter’s former editor lives — have sprung up on the outskirts. And a new planned housing development along the Rock River was voted down by the city council. This cut off a potential source of tax revenue to help revitalize the downtown, said Schwertfeger, whose bank was spearheading the project.
Pastures and silos still give this part of Dodge County a bucolic look, but recent years have been very hard on the area’s dairy and crop farmers. Low food prices and the growth of agribusiness have led many to sell their herds, rent their land and take second jobs.