Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Discussing the economy and jobs at a Faribault thrift store June 5, 2012

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“THE ECONOMY WILL only get worse and this time it will be world-wide,” he warns, he being an unemployed, former military man.

“But I think things are getting better,” I counter. “I’ve seen more jobs openings posted in the paper, more houses selling.”

He disagrees, says he has military friends in Europe. Times are tough there and only getting worse.

I am surprised by the doom-and-gloom economic forecast delivered by this 50-something-year-old job seeker during a brief conversation at The Clothes Closet, a used clothing store in downtown Faribault. I don’t know him, but he’s squeezed past me several times, carrying clothing from the back of the store to the check-out counter.

Finally, I can no longer contain my curiosity and comment, “You’re sure buying a lot of clothes.”

“I’m looking for a job,” he says, then begins spilling his story like we are long-time friends.

He can’t make ends meet on his military pension, although he’s grateful for that income, he says. So he’s looking for a job in security, maybe with the border patrol. He’ll travel soon to Corpus Christi in search of work that pays more than $9 an hour.

His 15-year-old daughter, who has been living with her mother, is coming with him. He’s relieved to no longer be paying $900 in monthly child support to a woman he says did not spend the money on their daughter. He seems genuinely happy to have his girl back.

But he’s not so cheerful about the process of applying for a job. “It’s not like it used to be where you can walk in and sell yourself,” he says. He doesn’t like the online resume job-screening process, preferring instead the personal one-on-one contact with a potential employer.

He looks like the type of fellow who could, face-to-face, easily sell himself as a security guard. Ex-military. Big guy. I expect he appears intimidating and authoritative in a uniform.

But for now, for this day, he is an unemployed and worried American buying clothes at a second-hand clothing store in Minnesota.

I was searching in my files for an image to illustrate this post. This particular photo has nothing to do with the man I engaged in conversation or the thrift store where we talked or even his job search. Yet, I consider it fitting for this story, and here’s why. To me, this shot from Main Street in tiny Norwalk exhibits this southwestern Wisconsin community’s optimism. Against the backdrop of weathered and shuttered buildings stand two symbols of optimism: those gorgeous hanging baskets and the American flag. Norwalk, along the Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail, calls itself “The Black Squirrel Capital of the World.”

WHAT’S YOUR OPINION on the economy? Is is improving or, as the ex-military man predicts, going to get considerably worse here and world-wide by this fall?

According to “employment situation” information released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on June 1, “the unemployment rate (for May) was essentially unchanged at 8.2 percent.” Currently, 12.7 million people are unemployed. The unemployment rate for adult men is 7.8 percent. To read the full report, click here.

ARE YOU LOOKING for a job? Share your experience by submitting a comment. How do you feel about the online job application process used by most businesses?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling