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


10 Responses to “Looking for work in a (still) challenging economy”

  1. Bernie Says:

    When you mentioned both of the men asking for work, I thought about the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Its not as common for folks to go up to a door now days.
    Here in Billings we have people with signs on the corners of every shopping center and large stores. Only its rare they ask for work, more often than not it’s just for money.
    For us, we don’t go out as much as we used to. Not that we did a ton before. We don’t just dash to the store for something in the middle of the week. We are making more menus and shopping from a menu.
    I dread our drive to Minnesota and the cost of gas.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I do admire these two door-knocking job seekers for their determination. At least they don’t simply expect a hand-out.

      Like you, I think less people are eating out. It’s a rare treat for us. And when we do eat out, I feel guilty for spending so much money on a meal and always think about all the groceries that money would buy.

  2. Dawn Tietz Says:

    We are finding that our health care costs are what really bring us down. We just heard Friday that our deductible is once again going up as are the premiums that we pay.

    Raising a large family (5 children) is much more of a challenge than I ever dreamed it would be and we don’t live very fancy. (I know, most people would say, “then why did you have 5 children?) That’s a story for another time!!

    When the cost of living keeps going up, but salaries don’t, we find ourselves taking on extra jobs just to keep up with the bills the best we can.

    Raising a family is not easy in this world of: a charge for this, a fee for that, shoes for this,always money for something.

    Add to this the fact that we are from a small town and have limited choices for our children finding part time jobs where they don’t have to drive 20 miles one way to get there to only spend 2-3 hours at it.

    I think the economy has a long way to go to be able to call it “improving.”

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Oh, Dawn, you really nailed it with the high cost of health insurance. It’s ridiculous. We too have high deductibles and equally high premiums. We don’t go to the doctor unless we absolutely must. My recent medical visits for my sudden sensory hearing loss set us back a few grand. But, hey, at least I’m getting close to meeting my deductible.

      As for jobs for youth, it is tough in rural Minnesota for them to find jobs. Always has been. In my day, the only jobs were walking beans, picking rock, detasseling corn and babysitting. Even in larger towns, it’s becoming more difficult for young people to find work.

      Consider your large family a blessing. They are.

      In summary, you and I agree that the economy has a long ways to go before it’s truly better. Hang in there.

  3. Amy Says:

    I don’t think the economy is bouncing back as quickly as some might say. It has been exceptionally difficult for us and our situation of moving so frequently. When we first got married and moved to Indiana, it took me almost 4 months to find a job that would pay the rent. Sure, I did find a cashier position, but at just above minimum wage and only 20 hours a week because of the people that had seniority, it couldn’t pay the bills. And then moving again within two years does not look the greatest on my resume, so why would someone want to hire me for a full time position when I am only going to be available for the next 9 or 10 months before we move again? The jobs of a cashier at any retail outlet are being taken by the older Americans who have lost their jobs and can’t find anything else. So it limits what I can look for and who will hire me. Networking, I am learning, is a BIG deal!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You are in a difficult situation as your husband transitions through the process until he has finished his vicarage and schooling. I feel for you. But I know you and your spouse will do your best to curtail expenses, make do and be thankful for what you have.

      Yes, networking is more important than ever these days. A recent college grad that I know got a job because of his mom’s connections. And a soon-to-be high school grad landed a summer job because his dad works for the company that has hired him.

      Everything you said is true and I do worry about the younger generation struggling to break into the job market and then, for many, trying to pay off a mountain of college loans.

  4. It has definitely been difficult for us- a small, home business is hard to push forward when people have less expendable income. But getting, or keeping, an outside job is still a challenge. We are so frugal I’m just not even sure what other corners we could cut! We don’t pay to have our hair cut, we don’t buy anything new, we only have one car and try to only drive it 2 or 3 times per week to save on gas. We’ve planted a vegetable garden and have gotten chickens so we can gather our own food and hopefully sell the extras. I know we’ll be fine, but it does require a lot of focus….

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I applaud all of your efforts to curb spending in your household. You clearly are doing everything you can to cut expenses. From reading your blog daily (readers check out HouseUnseen), I can see that your family enjoys life to the fullest, you have a positive attitude, a strong faith and are content with what you have. We should all learn from you.

      Readers, dweeg and her husband bought a house off the internet for $27,000 in cash, without ever seeing it. They then moved their family from California to Michigan. Quite the story…

  5. djhcakes Says:

    I do admire the 2 men for knocking on your door, a lot of people would have too much pride to do that in this day and time, even to feed their families. It does make me think of the stories I have heard of the 20’s, 30’s, and the 40’s. We don’t eat out at those expensive places because I think about what it cost, I can buy a lot of groceries for what that 1 meal would cost us. I also think about those families that can barely put even a small slice of bread on their tables. That also keeps me from eating out. I enjoy cooking so it’s no problem for me to cook a big meal and eat it for several meals.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      One can only imagine how folks struggled in the 20s, 30s and 40s. In comparison to today, even though many families/individuals are struggling to make ends meet, we still have so much more, materially.

      I grew up in a family with little money, but I never realized it as a child. That’s a testament to my parents and to their love and lifestyle.

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