Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Looking for work in a (still) challenging economy May 24, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:44 AM
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Back in the day, transients rode the rails looking for work.

IS THE ECONOMY IMPROVING? Maybe. Maybe not. That depends on whom you ask and on what day.

Several months ago I would have said, “Yeah, I think the economy is starting to look up.” More “Help wanted” ads were publishing in my local daily newspaper. I sensed an overall mood of optimism in the media and among people in general. It simply seemed to me that our economic situation was improving, if ever so slightly.

But then, boom, we were socked with outrageous prices at the gas pump and in the grocery store and I felt like we’d been punched, like we’d all been knocked to the mat. Again.

Yet, even though higher prices are hitting my family’s pocketbook, we aren’t struggling to make ends meet, to put food on the table, to pay the bills.

Not like some many people.

A knock on my door several days ago showed me the personal side of a dire economy. A man in his late 40s asked if he could mow my lawn. I declined his request, explaining that I planned to mow the yard that afternoon.

“Lookin’ for work?” I inquired before he nodded his head and walked away to the next house with an overgrown lawn.

I now regret that ridiculous question. Clearly he was seeking work or he wouldn’t have asked to mow my lawn. I also regret that I didn’t take the time to step outside, sit down on my front steps and listen to his story. I wonder what he would have told me.

Just like I wonder about the carpenter who lives nearby and has twice asked about working for me. When we met in January, I was shoveling snow and he was walking past my house in shirt sleeves. I told him he should be wearing a jacket. He brushed off my motherly concern and said he was headed to my neighbor’s place just up the hill.

We chatted for awhile and he commented on a pile of demolition debris lining the edge of the driveway. We had recently begun a home improvement project. He wondered whether I had any carpentry needs. I told him about a closet I planned for an upstairs bedroom, but I didn’t hire him.

Recently that same unemployed carpenter approached my husband to inquire again about work and that closet project. I admire his determination. Here is a man who needs a job and he’s not afraid to seek it out. (I sometimes wish I had hired him for another home improvement project which is now dragging into its sixth month.)

These two unemployed men remind me of the stories my Grandma Ida told me of hobos riding the rails, looking for work in the farm fields of southwestern Minnesota back in the day. If I recall correctly, these transients occasionally helped on my grandparents’ farm.

These were men down on their luck, in need of good, honest, hard work.

Although I am way too young to have lived through The Great Depression, I have those stories impressed upon me by a grandma who understood the value of hard work and “making do.”

My own parents also worked hard, lived within their means and set an example of being content with whatever you have. I’ve tried to live that way too and pass along to my children that family, faith, love and happiness are more important than material possessions.

Yet, we all need an income to pay the bills. In the 27 years I’ve lived in my Faribault home, I’ve never had local strangers approach me, looking for work. Until this year.

That’s as strong a statement as any about the challenging state of our current economy.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? How are you/your family handling this current challenging economy? Have you changed your lifestyle, your spending? Have you had unemployed individuals come to your door looking for work?

What’s your take on the current state of the economy?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling