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Whirlpool withdrawal in Fort Smith: Careers shattered 

The Whirlpool plant was the cornerstone of the Fort Smith economy, once employing thousands. In June, that all swirled away.

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"Too old to go start over," intoned a woman sitting nearby, "and you're too young to retire."

For now, Strange and her husband are living on her unemployment and her husband's monthly Social Security check. She said she isn't taking any kind of government aid other than what's available through the Trade Adjustment Assistance retraining program, but she and others know ex-Whirlpool employees who have gone on food stamps just to feed their families. Just talking about that possibility seems like a humiliation to her and the rest, but there may well be a day when it comes to that for many of them.

"Six or seven years ago, we thought that the people who were drawing government assistance were 'those people.' " Strange said. "We had no idea we'd be 'those people' someday."

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