What's On Your Mind, Wisconsin?

Watch Economic woes the number one concern for Wisconsin voters on PBS. See more from Here and Now.

By Adam Schrager

Over the last few weeks, we’ve traveled to numerous cities and towns in the state, met dozens of people from all walks of life, with a simple premise: to find out what they’re thinking about this election season.

It’ s a simple yet illustrative question and affords the person being asked the respect they deserve. Where we go from that question depends entirely on the answer we’re given. There are no preconceptions.

We didn’t know whether we’d find pessimism or optimism. I don’t think we found either. Instead,  I’d describe what we encountered as realism. People are doing what they can to get by as best as they can. Unfortunately for them, no more and often less. Their stories are not political except to serve as snapshots of the Wisconsin the candidates are looking to represent.

For example, we met Rod Gottfredsen, the owner of Austin’s Barbershop in downtown Beloit, who in a few years will celebrate his store’s 100-year anniversary. He’s been giving senior discounts to anyone in his community who’s unemployed as his wife a few years ago was laid off herself.

She held the health insurance in the family and as a breast cancer survivor, they’ve struggled to find coverage going forward. He finally found a carrier, but is paying $1200 a month for insurance compared to the $340 he and his wife paid at her old employer.

We met Fernando Ambas outside the Oshkosh Senior Center where he told us, after working here for 16 years, he will be heading back to work on a farm in his native country of the Philippines. He was recently laid off from his manufacturing job in the area and the amount of money he’d get from Social Security isn’t enough to cover his bills.

He wanted to stay and work, but “maybe it’s my age that’s pulling me down you know,” the grandfather told us. “It’s my age. Nobody calls me back.”

We met Carrie Arrouet, who owns Lela, a small boutique in Milwaukee’s historic 3rd Ward. By a simple definition, her business has been a success as she’s made a profit each of her nine years in existence, but times have definitely changed. Without being attentive to her customers’ needs and being able to change direction, to change how she does business quickly, the results would be different.

“People are not spending the way they used to spend,” she told us. “It’s a much longer sales cycle. Somebody doesn’t come in as often and do retail therapy with a purchase. They may do retail therapy with looking. And then, they leave and they think about it and they may or they may not come back. and you have to treat that person the same as you did when they would come in and drop $50 in two minutes because they just fell in love with something. Those days aren’t as often any more.”

The stories we heard are compelling and we’ll be sharing them over the next few weeks on Here and Now, starting tomorrow where we explore the on-going frustration Wisconsin residents seem to have with the tenor and tone of politicians today. Simply put, they don’t like it.

In the following segments, we’ll  look at their economic lots in life, their struggles with finding a job and health care, the challenges of retirement, the burden of debt and more.

If we don't bump into you on the street but you still want to participate, that'd be great.  You can call us at 1-800-253-1158 or send us an e-mail or videotaped question to: wisconsinvote@wpt.org.  Below you can watch our most recent installments of "What's on Your Mind, Wisconsin?"

Watch Voters share frustrations over divisive politics on PBS. See more from Here and Now.

Watch What's on Your Mind, Wisconsin: Health Care on PBS. See more from Here and Now.

Watch What's on Your Mind, Wisconsin: Retirement on PBS. See more from Here and Now.