Minnesota Now June 27, 2022

A woman smiling by a microphone
MPR News host Cathy Wurzer

Minnesota has seen its first case of monkeypox. We'll get the details on the illness and the health department's response.

Minnesota’s jobless rate is only 2 percent, but dig further and it’s all not good news. We'll get a look at who is hiring and who's not getting the job.

We'll hear from a man who is finding buried treasure in some pretty unlikely places, and I'll talk with one Minnesota mom sharing Minnesota salad recipes on TikTok, and tons of people are watching!

All that and more on Minnesota Now.

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Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] CATHY WURZER: It's Minnesota Now. I'm Cathy Wurzer. Minnesota has seen its first case of monkeypox. We'll get the details on the illness and the Health Department's response to it. We'll also hear perspectives from Sioux Falls after abortion became illegal in the state of South Dakota.


Minnesota's jobless rate is only 2%, but dig further and it's not all good news. We'll get a look at who is hiring and who's not getting the job.

We'll also hear from a man who's finding buried treasure in some pretty unlikely places. And I'll talk with one Minnesota mom who is sharing some weird Minnesota salad recipes on TikTok and tons of people are watching.


All of that plus the song of the day in the Minnesota Music Minute, all of it right after the news.

LAKSHMI SINGH: Live from NPR News in Washington, I'm Lakshmi Singh. The state judge is blocking Louisiana's abortion bans from taking effect. The court issued a temporary restraining order in response to a lawsuit on behalf of an abortion provider in Shreveport. Louisiana is among several states enacting tougher abortion restrictions after the Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade.

That ruling sparked a rally yesterday on the steps of the Alabama Capitol building in Montgomery. Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott reports.

SUBJECT 1: When I say Alabama, you say abortion. Alabama.

CROWD: Abortion.

SUBJECT 1: Abortion.

KYLE GASSIOTT: As they march to the Capitol's marble steps, protesters committed to overturning Alabama's 2019 abortion law, which is one of the most restrictive in the country. Audrey Thicklen, from Hayneville, Alabama, is 24 and Black. She believes the health care system endangered her life during a miscarriage. And she's not alone.

AUDREY THICKLEN: It fails specifically Black women in America because the mortality rate for pregnancies is extremely higher than any other race in the country.

KYLE GASSIOTT: Thicklen says, in the 1950s, civil rights protesters came together in places like Montgomery to change laws. And she thinks it can happen again in 2022. For NPR News, I'm Kyle Gassiott in Montgomery.

LAKSHMI SINGH: Well, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling today that's expected to make it tougher to prosecute doctors accused of distributing too many opioid pain pills. Here's NPR'S Brian Mann.

BRIAN MANN: Two doctors were convicted of violating the Federal Controlled Substances Act by handing out too many pain pills in ways that didn't meet legitimate medical needs. One was accused by the Justice Department of operating a massive pill mill during years when the opioid epidemic was exploding. But today's opinion, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, says prosecutors failed to prove the physicians quote, "knowingly or intentionally broke the law." Legal experts say this standard requiring prosecutors to demonstrate a doctor's state of mind will be difficult to meet. Attorneys for the US government also argued unsuccessfully that doctors will be able to avoid accountability simply by claiming they hold idiosyncratic views about the drugs they prescribe. Brian Mann, NPR News.

LAKSHMI SINGH: In Russia, the Kremlin's rejecting reports that it has defaulted on its foreign sovereign debt for the first time in more than a century. Here's NPR'S Elena Selyuk.

ELENA SELYUK: Russia's government argues it has the money to pay its debts, and has tried to pay it various ways. But the US in May closed the last pathway for American investors to receive that money. And so two interest payments from Russia, worth around $100 million, have been stuck since then. Yesterday marked a final deadline. A US official says the default illustrates the strength of sanctions and their impact on Russia's economy. Though Russian officials have for weeks said any default would be artificial or manufactured by the West.

In practical terms, the default status brings little change because Russia already faces many punishments that might befall an economy in default. Elena Selyuk, NPR News.

LAKSHMI SINGH: This is NPR News. Aftershocks are still rippling through areas of southeastern Afghanistan where a massive earthquake last week killed more than 1,000 people and displaced thousands more survivors.

The United Nations is raising concerns about the youngest victims. NPR's Diaa Hadid says the UN reports more than 150 children died in the earthquake.

DIAA HADID: The UN said in a flash update that another 65 children were either left orphaned or left unaccompanied by the earthquake that shook a remote province overnight Wednesday. The quake buried families sleeping in their homes. It was the worst natural disaster in two decades in Afghanistan, and Taliban officials estimate it killed over 1,000 people.

The UN, aid groups, and the Taliban have rushed in food, shelter, water and cash to survivors. But some have told local media it's not being distributed equitably. The UN is calling on the international community to help with emergency relief and the longer process of rebuilding the devastated area. Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad.

LAKSHMI SINGH: The sole surviving suspected member of the ISIS group that carried out terror attacks in France in 2015 is pleading for leniency. Salah Abdeslam made a final court appearance today. He says he knows he made mistakes, but he's not a murderer. Abdeslam claims he renounced his mission to detonate his bomb vests in a bar in Paris on the night of November 13 and disabled it while his brother and other ISIS militants launched attacks across the capital.

But a police explosives expert told the court the suicide belt Abdeslam was wearing was faulty. The attacks claimed the lives of 130 people. It's NPR.

SUBJECT 2: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations. Other contributors include Duck Duck Go. Committed to making privacy online simple. Used by tens of millions. They offer internet privacy with one download. Duck Duck Go. Privacy simplified. At duckduckgo.com.


CATHY WURZER: Around Minnesota right now, skies are sunny and it's pleasant. High temperatures today will top out in the upper 70s to the mid-80s. A little cooler near Lake Superior. At noon in Appleton, it's sunny and 79. It's 73 in Albert Lea, and outside the Frostbite Finds thrift store in International Falls, it's partly cloudy and 59. I'm Cathy Wurzer with Minnesota news headlines.

Mohamed Noor, a former Minneapolis police officer, was released from prison this morning. Noor has served just over three years for the death of Justine Ruszczyk. She's a woman who called 9-1-1 in July of 2017 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home. When she approached the squad car with Noor in it, he shot and killed her. At his trial, he said he was worried about an ambush.

Noor is now under State Department of Corrections supervision until January 24, 2024 when his sentence ends.

The trial of Jamal Smith is underway. Smith is the man accused of shooting and killing another driver while both were traveling down Highway 169 in the Twin Cities. Smith is charged with first degree murder in the death of Jay Boughton.

Boughton was driving back from a youth baseball game with his son when there was a dispute between himself and Smith as they rolled down the road. Investigators say Smith shot Boughton in the head. He died shortly after.

The State Transportation department is redoing a part of a highway that goes through a small town on the Iron Range. Dan Crocker explains.

DAN CROCKER: Last fall, MnDOT wrapped up the $5.4 million project in Biwabik that replaced utilities under Highway 135 that runs through downtown, and resurfaced the roadway. But this spring, the ground settled under the road, causing waviness in the pavement. MnDOT spokesperson Margie Nelson says the Department will repave the road in the short term to flatten it out. Then crews will resurface the roadway again after a planned July 4th parade.

MARGIE NELSON: We will be doing another paving in July. And then in 2023, we're going to come back and do some more work on it as well.

DAN CROCKER: Nelson says the settling was a surprise, and says MnDOT is still investigating what caused it. The state will foot the bill to fix the project. She says it's not known yet how much it will cost. I'm Dan Crocker, Duluth.


CATHY WURZER: Our top story-- the first case of monkeypox has been found in Minnesota. The news comes this morning from the State Department of Health. State health officials say the Twin Cities adult is receiving treatment for an infection that likely occurred during overseas travel.

As of last Friday, the CDC reported 201 cases of monkeypox in 26 other states. In recent months, more than 4,100 cases have been reported in 47 other countries where the disease is not typically reported. Dr. Priya Sampathkumar is a Professor of Medicine and an infectious disease expert at Mayo Clinic. Dr. Sampathkumar, welcome to the program.


CATHY WURZER: What is monkeypox? How do you describe this disease?

PRIYA SAMPATHKUMAR: Monkeypox is what we describe as a febrile rash illness. In simple terms, it's you have a fever and a rash. And there are a number of different viruses that can do this. The thing about monkeypox is that it generally is a rash that's all over your body until this outbreak. And people feel fairly sick with it. It's something that most of us in the US have never seen because there have been so few cases in the United States.

CATHY WURZER: Is this a zoonotic disease, meaning spread from animal species to humans?

PRIYA SAMPATHKUMAR: Exactly. So in the wild, you can get it from contact with animals. There was a large outbreak in the US in 2003 that people actually got from pet prairie dogs that had been infected with some other animals from Africa that had been stored in the same facility.



CATHY WURZER: Go ahead, I'm sorry.

PRIYA SAMPATHKUMAR: And most people got it from contact with these animals-- bites, scratches, et cetera.

CATHY WURZER: How then is monkeypox spread from human to human?

PRIYA SAMPATHKUMAR: Most of the time, human to human transmission is not very efficient. So you need very close, prolonged contact for it to spread from person to person. And it is spread primarily by close contact with the skin lesions, the rash that the infected person has, contact with their clothing or bedding that might be contaminated with secretions from the rash. And also from very close prolonged contact, face to face, when respiratory droplets can pass from one person to another.

CATHY WURZER: Say, kissing, that kind of thing.


CATHY WURZER: Mmhmm. What are the symptoms if you have, or you think you may have monkeypox?

PRIYA SAMPATHKUMAR: So one of the things about monkeypox is that it has a fairly long incubation period, which is the period of time from when you were exposed to when you first have symptoms. It can be as long as three weeks. So you might have forgotten about your exposure by that time.

The symptoms start out as a non-specific illness. You have some fever, you feel like-- you just may feel generally unwell. And then two to four days later, you develop the rash. And the rash can just be mild discoloration of the skin. That then progresses to what we call a papule, or a little bump under your skin.

And then that becomes a tiny blister that then becomes filled with pus. And eventually it scabs over. So the rash progresses through multiple different stages.

CATHY WURZER: What's the treatment for this illness?

PRIYA SAMPATHKUMAR: Fortunately, most people don't require any treatment. They need supportive care if sometimes this rash can become infected with bacteria, that need antibiotics. For people who are immunosuppressed and have a very extensive rash, people who have some underlying immune deficiencies, there are some antivirals that are not available commercially, but can be released by the CDC when a case has been confirmed.

CATHY WURZER: As I mentioned in the introduction, this has been reported now in a number of countries where the disease really isn't typically seen. So how much of a concern is monkeypox? Why are some public health officials worried about it?

PRIYA SAMPATHKUMAR: So any time something is behaving differently than it has in the past, it sort of sets off our antennae. So all previous cases were limited to certain countries in Africa. The fact that now we're seeing so many cases in Europe and the US is worrying as to whether or not the virus might have changed in some way that's making it more transmissible. So that's one worry.

The second thing is the way the disease is presenting. It's not as easy to detect as before. Some people have no fevers. Some people have just a little bit of a rash. So again, there's fear that what we're seeing might just be the tip of the iceberg, that there are more cases than otherwise.

And thirdly, it so far has been happening in healthy people and most people are recovering completely without any problems. But when something becomes more widespread, we're always worried about our vulnerable populations. If it gets a foothold in them, would the disease be more severe, more transmissible, more of an issue?

CATHY WURZER: As an infectious disease expert, now that we have one confirmed case, what are you going to be watching for in the coming weeks?

PRIYA SAMPATHKUMAR: I think we need to be alert for more cases and really be thinking in the back of our mind about monkeypox when we see anyone with a rash. Things like chicken pox, measles will likely be more likely to happen, but we need to be alert for monkeypox.

And I just want to make a plug for vaccination too. During the COVID pandemic, a lot of routine vaccinations got kind of missed. So if you have a child who hasn't been vaccinated against chickenpox or measles, none of these vaccines protect against monkeypox but you will be better off because you won't have a rash illness.

CATHY WURZER: All right. Dr. Sampathkumar, thank you so much.


CATHY WURZER: We've been talking to Dr. Priya Sampathkumar. She's an infectious disease expert at Mayo Clinic.


Time for some Minnesota music. This is a new one from Duluth band, Trampled by Turtles. It's called, "It's So Hard To Hold On." The band will have a new album out in October. You can catch them at the Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth, July the 9th.


(SINGING) It's the same. All the years come rushing back. Yeah, I don't remember that. Stuck at dawn, falling fast like the weather. Sing a song in a way that you never did before. Oh, the screens have all gone black. And it won't be coming back. It's so hard. It's so hard to hold on. It's so hard. It's so hard to hold on. Steady now.

CATHY WURZER: I think that's going to be their first Duluth show since the pandemic shut down the live music industry back in March of 2020. That's always a fun, fun event at Bayfront Festival Park. It's going to be July the 9th. I'm Cathy Wurzer. This is Minnesota today-- Minnesota Now from NPR News. Minnesota today's the podcast. It's always hard to keep these things straight.

Minnesota Now here at NPR News at 12:16. Say, if you've ever used an old fashioned outhouse, you probably didn't linger in there anymore than you had to, right? Our next guest spends quite a bit of time in outhouses and he is darned happy about it.

Tom Askjem of Buxton, North Dakota says, yesterday's toilets are a treasure trove of information that tell the stories of the past. He's made a career of digging bottles, dish fragments, and other forgotten relics in outhouse pits, some of which date back to the 1870s. Tom's on the line. Welcome to the program, Tom. How are you?

TOM ASKJEM: Hey. Not too bad.

Good. How in the world did you stumble upon your first old outhouse?

TOM ASKJEM: Well, I grew up on a 1870's homestead outside of Buxton, North Dakota. And as a kid I would explore the woods. I found the trash dump from the previous family and started digging through that. And once that finished out, I must've been about 14 or 15 years old at the time. I read about old outhouses having long lost relics that were thrown in them.

Well, I asked my parents where the old outhouse was when they bought the place. They showed me the general area. And it wasn't until they were clearing the woods with a tractor, just kind of pushing dead trees and pushing some trees over that I saw some garbage and stove ashes come out of the ground.

And I'd read that the ashes were usually thrown over these pits to neutralize the smell. So I started digging and it took me all summer but I found a ton of information on the people who used to live here. Medicine bottles, whiskey bottles, dinnerware. Really fancy dinnerware in that pit. So I kind of got a general idea of their lifestyle. They seemed to be well off and--

CATHY WURZER: I'm kind of curious. Who's generally in Buxton, North Dakota? I mean who were the first, beyond natives, who were the White settlers?

TOM ASKJEM: A lot of them were Norwegian immigrants, Swedish immigrants. And a lot of them homesteaded in the 1870s and '80s. I think the earliest homesteaders were during the mid-1870s. But they usually came in, built a sod house and later a log cabin, and then a frame house if they stayed long enough.

CATHY WURZER: I'm a little--

TOM ASKJEM: The farm I grew up on had all three.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, it did. Wow, that's really neat. I'm kind of curious that somebody would throw away really nice china in an outhouse. Was that just like today's version of a garbage disposal?

TOM ASKJEM: Yeah. They didn't have as much garbage as we have nowadays. So these pits wouldn't fill up as fast as someone in modern day would think. And the dishes that were thrown down were usually broken. Sometimes they could have been dropped down by mistake. We'll find whole pieces. But generally, just broken stuff was thrown down them with the exception of the bottles that were made to be discarded once the contents were used up.

CATHY WURZER: Where else do you take your outhouse digging to? Have you been around the region?

TOM ASKJEM: I've been coast to coast, Maine to California, south to Galveston, Texas. I've been all over the place. I generally focus on this upper part of the Midwest though.

CATHY WURZER: OK. So what kinds of stories about people's lives have you put together through these found items?

TOM ASKJEM: Well, there's all kinds of folks out there. You'll sometimes get a pit from an alcoholic or a drug user. You'll find the pits packed full of liquor flasks or prescription bottles. And like I mentioned, with some of the more ornate dinnerware, you could come to the conclusion a family was a bit more well-off than the others that had the plain dinnerware. And the size of the pit can be an indication of a bigger family or, in a residence, anyway-- the hotel pits can be huge. And the travelers were coming through there, so you'll find items from all over the place. It's kind of interesting to see where they came from. Because they kind of stopped at the hotel along their way.

CATHY WURZER: So how have you turned these digs into a career?

TOM ASKJEM: One pit at a time, I guess. I'm still trying to wrap my head around all of it. I just kind of started out as a kid digging in the yard and now I'm traveling across the country.

But recently I started a YouTube channel that's called Below the Plains. And we've already amassed a big audience, over 5,000 subscribers, and more or less just all positive comments. Thank you for documenting this history and sharing it with everyone type of thing.

And that's one of my favorite things to do is share my discoveries. I've been in newspapers and magazines. I've published two books on local soda bottles, one from North Dakota, and the other one from Nebraska.

CATHY WURZER: I didn't realize that local soda bottles would be so popular.

TOM ASKJEM: The soda bottles were made to be returned. So local bottlers would put the bottling works name or the bottlers name. They would have it stamped into the glass during manufacture.

CATHY WURZER: That's right.

TOM ASKJEM: Along with the designation it should be returned to. For instance, Grand Forks, North Dakota. And there's a lot of local interest with those just being they have the local town names on them and I figured that would be the best book to publish, where the interest lies.

CATHY WURZER: So, curious. How do you find where these outhouses are? I mean, do you just assume when you're on an old spread, an old place, that there's got to be some-- either it's still there-- if it's there, it must be easy, obviously. But do you go around with like a metal detector, just to find out where the original site might have been?

TOM ASKJEM: Spring steel probe rods is what I use. And generally, it's best to know where the building stood. Sometimes it's still standing. A lot of the earlier ones are long gone. But once you get a general idea of where it was, then I'll put markers out on the ground. They're usually three paces apart, 20 paces long. And then I'll just grid the area out and probe every few feet between these markers.

It's kind of a process of elimination. Sometimes it takes hours, days. I've spent almost a month on some of these ghost town sites, gridding out and marking where I figured the buildings were and concluding that with the finding of the outhouses. They usually weren't too far from the buildings. The furthest I've seen was about 200 feet, and that was at a stage station stop in South Dakota.

CATHY WURZER: I'm sure that was interesting at the time. So what do you do with the found items?

TOM ASKJEM: Oh, just all kinds of things. I always dig on private property with the owner's permission. So I'll offer some finds to the property owner. And I'll offer some to local museums. A lot of the stuff is broken, so a lot of the time, unless it's a whole item, they don't have a lot of interest. If no one's interested, I'll just kind of put them carefully at the bottom of the pit, and I guess save them for the next digger.

But if I find, for instance, maybe 70 plus percent of a piece of dinnerware, I'll save it and glue it back together if it's something I think significant. If I'm digging on a site I feel is significant, like a stage station stop, or prominent residence, I'll save every last piece. And I've been working on a few books that document those kind of sites.

CATHY WURZER: Still haven't found out--

TOM ASKJEM: I'll piece them together and then photograph them.

CATHY WURZER: So you really are like an archaeologist. You're kind of like an archaeologist, truly.

TOM ASKJEM: Self-taught. And there's always a controversy with that, being I'm not certified. But you know, I sometimes try working with these state historic societies and this and that. And they kind of shrug me off because I don't have a degree. And I've been working on filling out site reports for some historic societies, which I have no problem doing.

And you know, I've dug, I think, over 1,300 of these sites, these outhouse sites, in the past 15 years. And it's possible I've actually dug more than anyone in the country. I've been in touch with a lot of the kind of main diggers all across the country. And a lot of them just get out on weekends, and I'm sometimes out every day. And when I'm not out digging, I'll be researching. And it's kind of just a full time job for me.

But I enjoy it. I can't complain.

CATHY WURZER: Obviously, you enjoy it. I got about a minute left. What do your friends and family think about your career?

TOM ASKJEM: Well, at first they probably thought I was crazy. And I dragged some with along on the digs. And they'd see that there is some merit to what I'm saying. And now that I've got myself known to some degree, publishing books and working on that YouTube channel, all of them are on board with it, which is good.

CATHY WURZER: Yes, it is. Well, Tom, it sounds like it's interesting. I'm glad you took time to talk with us. Thanks so much and best of luck.

TOM ASKJEM: Thank you.

CATHY WURZER: Tom Askjem is a citizen historian and an archivist. He's from Buxton, North Dakota, checking out what's underneath yesterday's outhouses. It's 12:26.

WOMAN: Support comes from the Alzheimer's Association and their 14 Walks to End Alzheimer's in Minnesota. Join one to contribute to research and family support programs. alz.org/walk. Where there's a walk, there's a way.

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CATHY WURZER: What a nice day around the state of Minnesota with sunshine and temperatures-- started a little cool, earlier this morning. Hibbing was at 38 degrees. And in Hibb right now it's sunny and 69. 75 in Brainerd and in St. Cloud. 75 also in Rochester, Austin, Albert Lea, downtown St. Paul's at 75 degrees. It's 75 in Bemidji, pretty popular temperature. We'll get the rest of the forecast, and of course news headlines from Steven John, who's in the NPR newsroom. Steven?

STEVEN JOHN: Thanks, Kathy. A former Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot 9-1-1 caller Justine Ruszczyk in 2017 has been released from prison on parole. The State Department of Corrections said today 36-year-old Mohamed Noor was released and placed under the supervision of Hennepin County Community Corrections.

Four people were injured when shots were fired in a large gathering across the river from downtown Minneapolis over the weekend. Minneapolis police said officers arrived to find multiple fights breaking out within a large group gathered near the Stone Arch Bridge at around 11 o'clock Saturday night. Police said a man in his 30s suffered a potentially life threatening wound. A police spokesperson said no arrests had been made as of Sunday morning.

The US Supreme Court has sided with a football coach from Washington State who sought to kneel and pray on the field after games. Today's ruling could strengthen the acceptability of some religious practices in other public school settings. The court ruled 6-3 along ideological lines for the coach, with the majority saying the coach's prayer was protected by the First Amendment.

At least 10 people have died in a Russian missile strike on a shopping mall in the Central Ukraine city of Kremenchuk. That word today from the region's governor. Earlier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a telegram post that the number of victims was unimaginable, citing reports that more than 1,000 civilians were inside at the time of the attack. Zelensky stressed that the target presented no threat to the Russian army and had no strategic value.

Minnesota weather, sunny to partly cloudy. Some scattered sprinkles can't be ruled out in eastern areas of the state, with highs in the upper 70s to mid 80s. 60s to mid-70s near Lake Superior. 77 now in the Twin Cities at 12:29.

CATHY WURZER: Thank you, Steven.

Several states have now outlawed abortion, or intend to do so now that the US Supreme Court has concluded that there is no constitutional right to abortion. Having an abortion immediately became illegal Friday in South Dakota following the announcement of the high court's ruling.

Reporter Marc Zdechlik spent the weekend in South Dakota. He joins me now from Sioux Falls. Hey, mark. So, what have you been hearing?

MARK ZDECHLIK: Well frankly, a lot of people politely told me they don't want to talk about it. Of those who agreed to share some of their thoughts, no one was really kind of on the fence not knowing what to make of the high court's decision. I spoke with 55-year-old Jody Peterson who was working in her yard in Sioux Falls yesterday. She was steadfast in her belief that abortion should not be guaranteed under the Constitution. She said if women don't want to have children, they should take measures other than abortion and she had no time for other points of view.

JODY PETERSON: Birth control is everywhere. It's called a simple choice. Educate yourself. Be responsible for yourself. Life is not that hard. Be responsible.

I've never had to make a horrible choice like abortion. You know why? Do you know why? Because I made a choice to be on birth control. Not hard.

MARK ZDECHLIK: I also spoke, Cathy, with Glen Ivey, who lives in Aberdeen. That's about three hours northwest of Sioux Falls, also in South Dakota. He too said he agrees with the decision, but he has reservations about the reach of government into people's personal lives.

GLEN IVEY: I personally am a pro-life person. But I'm very questionable whether I feel the government has the right to impose that on others.

CATHY WURZER: What are people who opposed the decision to end federal abortion protections saying, Mark?

MARK ZDECHLIK: Well, many said they're deeply disturbed by the ruling. Not just in disagreement with it. Many told me they worry they think it'll hurt women who have already problems struggling financially the worst, because they might not have options to travel out of state for abortion services.

26-year-old Sioux Falls resident Cora Williams was stunned by the change.

CORA WILLIAMS: It's been a really rough week. I'll say that. It's just something that you don't really fathom being a citizen here, being something like almost my right being taken away from me, so. It's been difficult for sure.

MARK ZDECHLIK: Cora's mother, Nada Priester, stood beside her daughter as we were talking. And she said she was angry for the sake of Cora, her other daughters, and other women.

NADA PRIESTER: She's a human being. She should have the right to choose her care, her medicine, what she wants to do with her body. It's her choice. It's not my choice. I would not tell my daughter what she should do with her body. She should have the choice. People say they want small government. This is overreaching in my opinion. What right does one human have to say to another, I don't care the reasons, you can't do this.

MARK ZDECHLIK: Cathy, as I spoke to those two women, Cora, the daughter, told me she works at a major bank branch here in downtown Sioux Falls. And she said she's considering leaving South Dakota because of its abortion ban.

CATHY WURZER: As you know, Mark, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem was on some of the Sunday talk shows yesterday saying she's going to push for more restrictions on medical abortion, abortion pills. What did she say about that specifically?

MARK ZDECHLIK: Well, Governor Noem has called for a special session to craft more legislation following Friday's ruling. She says she's particularly concerned about the abortion pills, which despite FDA approval, she maintains are dangerous. Among other things, she wants to prosecute doctors for prescribing the pills. She's not saying she will go after women who get them. No date, Cathy, has yet been set for that special session.

CATHY WURZER: And what's the likely impact in Minnesota of all of this?

MARK ZDECHLIK: I spoke yesterday afternoon with the CEO of Planned Parenthood, North Central States, that's Sarah Stoesz, who says clinics in Minnesota will be much busier. They don't know how much busier. But they're saying 10% to 25% busier, because they're going to be helping more people from other areas. And she says that's going to be a challenge.

SARAH STOESZ: We have enough physical infrastructure, meaning we've got enough clinic capacity, but we're always struggling for staffing. And this is my biggest concern, Mark. I don't know where we're going to be able to get enough staff to be able to take in the patients that are coming to Minnesota from other states.

MARK ZDECHLIK: Stoesz said she thinks major health care providers in Minnesota that have not thus far offered non-emergency abortion services need to step up and help meet what's expected to be a significant demand for care in Minnesota.

CATHY WURZER: All right, Mark. Thanks for the reporting.

MARK ZDECHLIK: You're welcome.

CATHY WURZER: That's NPR News reporter Marc Zdechlik from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


Unemployment in Minnesota is now at an all time low, just 2%. That's the lowest since the metric started being tracked in 1976. That sounds great, right? But the numbers are not all good news. Black and Hispanic Minnesotans are experiencing much higher unemployment rates than white Minnesotans. Nearly 7% for Black Minnesotans, compared to just 2 and 1/2 percent for white Minnesotans. Here to break down all the numbers for us is Steve Grove. He's the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Welcome, Commissioner.

STEVE GROVE: Hey, Cathy. Thanks for having me.

CATHY WURZER: Let's start with the big picture. 2.2% unemployment rate is obviously very good. What do we know about why unemployment continues to tick down?

STEVE GROVE: Well, the good news is, our unemployment rate does continue to go down because people are getting back into the job market. There was a time during the pandemic where that rate was artificially low because people were giving up on finding jobs. That is not the case. Minnesota has, at this point, the sixth highest labor force participation rate in the country. So people are really getting back to work fast.

But with that low unemployment rate, and so many jobs available for very few people available to search for them, we now in our state have the fifth tightest labor market in the country. So it is just a really tight market right now for employers trying to hire people in a really, really competitive labor market.

CATHY WURZER: And the state keeps adding jobs, though. In what industries?

STEVE GROVE: Well, we're adding jobs in almost every industry. We've seen big upticks in manufacturing, certainly in health care. Leisure and hospitality have bounced back a lot since the pandemic. Of course, that industry was massively hit during the pandemic, due to all the challenges there with in-person service.

But you're right. Eight months in a row of job growth in our state-- that is a very good thing. And our rates continue to climb there. But as you point out, the growth has not been equal across all groups in our state. And that's something that we're very focused on here in state government.

CATHY WURZER: Can you explain for us, what are some of the theories? I mean, there is this major inequality here. Why is unemployment so much more prevalent for Black and Hispanic Minnesotans?

STEVE GROVE: Well, a lot of it has to do with the industries for which workers from those backgrounds are most often represented. Black workers in particular often show up in higher numbers in industries that have higher churn. So industries or jobs move in and out more quickly. Some of those jobs are also lower wage jobs as well. And so there's just more movement there.

I think certainly there is systemic racism in Minnesota, and in our economy more broadly. There has been some progress over the past decade as it relates to the unemployment rate for Black Minnesotans. It has gotten a lot better in the past 10 years. It's now the fifth lowest Black unemployment rate in the country. We compare ourselves to our friends in Wisconsin. Over there the Black unemployment rate is almost 11%.

So some of this is relative. But tell that to somebody who's trying to find a job and whose income is, on average, $35,000 less per year than a white counterpart. And you know we have some equality issues here that we really have to focus on as a state if we're going to make progress. And it's something that I think really does matter to everybody. Our labor force is growing, in the next 10 years, 70% from people of color.

So this is where all of our labor force is growing. If these inequities don't shift, we're not going to be taking advantage of where our growth is economically.

CATHY WURZER: I was talking to an economist over the weekend who was talking about jobless figures. And the more educated the workforce, the economist said, the lower the unemployment rate usually is. Blacks and Hispanics, if you look at figures, are less likely to have completed high school or college. So I'm wondering, does education, education levels help explain some of this racial and ethnic disparity in unemployment?

STEVE GROVE: It does. I mean, if you look at that rate in Minnesota, 43.4% of Black African-American adults have a high school diploma or less compared to just 29% of whites. Education makes a huge difference.

On the whole, Minnesota's secret as an economic success as a state has been our talent. We have some of the highest high school graduation rates, highest college graduation rates, and best investments in education. But that has not been uniquely distributed.

One of the things the governor is trying to do here in working with stakeholders across community is really advance how schools are addressing educational gaps in the system, both hiring more teachers of color, investing more in districts that need extra help, looking for ways to really replicate what was truly the Minnesota Miracle back in the early 1970s when some property taxes shifted and made this state one of the most inclusive environments for education in the country.

That's the kind of attention we need at this inflection point as well. Really, the future of our economy depends on it.

CATHY WURZER: What's DEED's focus when it comes to education and retraining?

STEVE GROVE: Well, DEED is the state's primary workforce development agency. We are charged with training workers for the businesses that need them in our economy today. And so we focus very heavily on putting hundreds of millions of dollars into workforce training across dozens and dozens of partners through our workforce development system. And I'll tell you, Cathy, we're trying to do things differently here.

We know that if you just do the same things you've been doing for a couple of decades, you're going to get the same result. And at a really unique time when the labor market is so tight, when people access training differently, and when you have these disparities, you should expect something different from government.

So we have massively increased the amount of money we're directing towards workforce development. We've shifted significantly the percentage of people of color who avail themselves of our training. And we've been pushing the legislature, who of course, dictate the budget that we get to put to work for Minnesotans, to really prioritize communities of color in their work.

We had a number of programs that were left on the table here in this last legislative session, when the Senate walked away, that would have significantly advanced workforce training for immigrants and refugees, people of color, those in greater Minnesota who lack access to some of this training. In a big shift like we're seeing in our economy today, where people are trying new jobs, you oftentimes need training just to reskill, to shift industries.

Things are changing our economy quickly. And your government should be here to help and to help businesses access stronger talent.

CATHY WURZER: You seeing any movement, any needle moving with some of these programs at all?

STEVE GROVE: We are, yeah. We're seeing significantly more people back into the labor force. Like I said before, we have one of the highest labor force participation rates in the country. People in Minnesota do work hard. And we're seeing record drop offs in those who are taking in unemployment insurance benefits in our department every week, and a lot of folks getting back into the market on the backs of this training.

One of the things we're trying to do is look out into the future. What are the jobs that are going to be most in demand in the next 10 years? How do we train for those?

I think the pandemic gave every worker in the state the chance to step back and say, all right, well, what is a good job in today's economy? And with automation accelerating, and technology being a central focus of the job market today, no matter what company you're in, how do I get a job that allows me to work in that space?

And so we are putting a lot of money into training people for technology jobs, for jobs that involve manufacturing from an automation standpoint. Really, the jobs of the future. And that's how you're going to get a state that can win this next chapter.

If we continue to do what we've been doing for several decades, we're going to have the same workforce that might not match completely what employers need. So we are moving to modernize as quickly as we can.

CATHY WURZER: So going back to the most recent jobless figures in Minnesota, I'm just kind of curious. How low do you think that this unemployment rate can go?

STEVE GROVE: Well, it's an interesting question. I'll be honest. When I talk to our economists here at the agency, we all kind of scratch our head. The idea that it could be under 2% is just kind of a head scratcher. It really is.

I don't know how much lower it can go. I will say that of course, everyone's watching the national story as it relates to the Fed's movements, and where inflation will go, and if we'll see a bit of a cool off here. This is a moment where I think most folks are holding their breath a little bit.

But largely, low unemployment rate is a good thing so long as it shows that people are getting back into the labor market, which has been the case here in Minnesota. So we'll take further dips as long as it means more people are getting into the market and helping workers. We just need to get more people to come to the state. And I think for a long time, Minnesota hasn't been as aggressive on recruiting talent.

We haven't been as, I don't know, boastful of ourselves, or aggressive in marketing Minnesota. We think that needs to change. Minnesota needs to be out there telling the rest of the country, hey, come and live and work here. We've got challenges like every state, but we're working on them. And this happens to be one of the best economies in the country to work or to start a business.

For example, you start a business in Minnesota, more likely to be around in five years than in any other state in the country. So we have built a really strong economy here. We just need to celebrate it to others and get more folks to think about coming and taking part in it.

CATHY WURZER: All right. Commissioner, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

STEVE GROVE: Yeah, thanks, Cathy. Talk to you soon.

CATHY WURZER: Steve Grove is the Commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

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CATHY WURZER: What do you get when you mix Cool Whip, Snickers bars, vanilla pudding mix, chopped apples and marshmallows? It's the recipe for a popular Minnesota salad, a staple at potlucks across the state.

A Minnesota-based TikTok creator is sharing her own Minnesota salad recipes and the stories and traditions of her community with the world. Her name is Amber Estenson from Frazee, Minnesota, just east of Detroit Lakes.

With more than 700,000 followers on TikTok, Estenson's most popular video is her Snickers salad recipe, with more than 3 million views. Let's take a listen.

AMBER ESTENSON: Why am I up so gosh darn early? Well, there's a potluck at school today, and I have to do the apples the morning that you serve them because otherwise they turn brown. So we're going to start with a box of instant vanilla pudding. Add one cup of buttermilk, and only one cup, because otherwise your salad would be soupy, and we don't want soupy salad. And mix.

Usually I do this at midnight when the kids are asleep. Since we're doing this for a potluck, we're doing eight apple. Granny Smith and honey crisp apples, because we're in Minnesota, and they were developed at the University of Minnesota in 1960.

Lots of people take the skins off their apples, but I leave them on. I mean, for Pete's sake, this is a salad. We've got to have something healthy in there, don't you know?

CATHY WURZER: Thank you, Amber. Amber is with us right now to talk about her journey on TikTok and what it's been like to share her life in Minnesota with folks from around the world. Hey, Amber, how are you?

AMBER ESTENSON: I'm great. Thanks for having me.

CATHY WURZER: Thanks for being here. Now, I'm a native Minnesotan, native of South Minneapolis. So I may have missed the boat on the Snickers salad in my family. I have never heard of the Snickers salad. Who is eating this thing?

AMBER ESTENSON: Anybody and everybody?


AMBER ESTENSON: Well, you know, Snickers salad and cookie salad. Cookie salad I actually think is the most viewed one. That's with the Keebler elves' cookies and Mandarin oranges, and Cool Whip and pudding. Those two were ones that my mom never did because, you know, they had so much sugar in them, which is hilarious. Because all Minnesota salads have too much sugar in them.

But you know, Uncle Kevin would bring the cookie salad and somebody else would bring the Snickers salad. But it's extremely popular. It's always at a potluck. It doesn't matter if it's in a church basement, or if it's at a [AUDIO OUT]

CATHY WURZER: I got to go ahead and obviously-- OK. Of course, now, we lost her too. Wouldn't you know that? Oh, for goodness sakes. I'm going to have to get out more-- obviously, Amber, you're back, aren't you? There you are.

AMBER ESTENSON: I am. Yep. I can hear you.

CATHY WURZER: OK. I'm going to come up to your neck of the woods then. You're going to have to go maybe take me a little taste tour through your potlucks.

AMBER ESTENSON: Well, the perfect opportunity would be Turkey Days at the end of the month of July.

CATHY WURZER: It would be, in Frazee, for sure.

AMBER ESTENSON: In Frazee, yep.

CATHY WURZER: So tell me how you got started on TikTok.

AMBER ESTENSON: It just, honestly-- I've kind of lived all over the country and all over the world. And I remember when I was going to school at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, I had a bunch of friends come over that were in town for Thanksgiving. They weren't able to travel. And I did the whole shebang, the whole Thanksgiving spread. And I put raspberry pretzel salad on the table.

CATHY WURZER: Yes, you did.

AMBER ESTENSON: With the dinner course. And you know, my friends from Korea, and my friends from Taiwan, and then even my friends from Philadelphia were like, why are you calling this a salad? This is not normal, Amber. And I did know that. In the back of my head, I knew it wasn't normal outside of Minnesota. But it also didn't really dawn on me, either, because it was just so much part of my culture and my family, and everything that we'd done.

But then they ate it. And they're like, oh, my gosh. This is so-- this shouldn't be so delicious, but it is. And so it was just one of those things that I had to bring to every gathering, otherwise I'd get in trouble.

CATHY WURZER: These are like dessert salads, you should say to people who are not sure. They're like dessert salads, in a sense.

AMBER ESTENSON: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Dessert salads, or fluff salads, or-- but everybody wants to know, from all over the world, even on TikTok, like when do you serve these? Oh, we serve them with the main course. Well, what do you mean you serve them with the main course? Well, there's a whole table of salads. And some of them are vegetable salads, but most of them are fluff salads.

CATHY WURZER: With, of course, the more Cool Whip you have, the better. And Jell-O.

AMBER ESTENSON: Absolutely. Yep.

CATHY WURZER: And Jell-O. Absolutely.


CATHY WURZER: So how far have your videos reached?

AMBER ESTENSON: I would say all-- I've got lots of people in Australia that are rather concerned with what we're doing, but absolutely fascinated by it. And just for example, I was at Pride yesterday, and I couldn't go more than three feet and people would recognize me and say hi, and want a hug.

It's humbling, just because I do it from behind a screen, out of my kitchen. And then I go out into the world and get recognized all of the time. And it's thrilling and exciting, but also, wow, this is great.

CATHY WURZER: Isn't that amazing? It's amazing. So I'm presuming you're also talking about Frazee, which is a pretty small place.

AMBER ESTENSON: Yes. It is a very small place. I think our current population is around 1,100. I was born and raised there. My mom has a hair salon on Main Street. So you know, honestly, I was small town famous before TikTok because everybody knows my mom. It's Grand Central Station at my mom's hair salon.

And she's very involved in the community as well. And so a lot of my TikTok is based off of my mom's interactions with the public and what she's done. It's just so much part of our culture up north in Minnesota to feed everyone.

The food might not be pretty, but it tastes really great, and it feeds a whole army. So it's the Minnesota way to say I love you is have you eaten yet, or did you eat yet?

CATHY WURZER: That's absolutely true. Absolutely true. I can only imagine. I bet your mom's hair salon could be the scene of almost like a movie--

AMBER ESTENSON: Oh, it could be an absolute reality show.

CATHY WURZER: Exactly. Right, a reality show. I can't even imagine how much fun is in that little salon.

AMBER ESTENSON: That's true.

CATHY WURZER: I know you're a former-- you're a former opera singer, and now you're a teacher?

AMBER ESTENSON: Yeah. Well, I don't think you ever stop being an opera singer. But you stop getting paid to be an opera singer. But yeah, I teach music at Frazee Elementary School. And I still continue to perform when I can. So fortunately, an opportunity came up. Like this weekend, I'll be singing the national anthem at the Minnesota Twins game on Friday night.


AMBER ESTENSON: I appreciate it when things like that happen through TikTok because it brings all aspects of my artistic degrees together-- the acting and the singing and just as my mother would say, generally being dramatic.

CATHY WURZER: Then this is a perfect outlet for you.

AMBER ESTENSON: Yeah, it really is. It really, really is. I mean, I'd tried previously to do a blog about it, because I knew that there was something special about my town. I knew that there was something special about small town Minnesota and the way we interact with each other and the way we help each other. How we stop our cars in the middle of Main Street when it's 20 below out and still roll down the window and say hi to each other.

I knew that there was something special about it. But for me, I'm actually dyslexic and ADHD, and so a blog, which is what I tried, just was not my format. And that was 10 years ago. And then TikTok happened and I downloaded it during the pandemic like most of us did, and just kind of watched for a long time.

And then remembering how people had reacted to those salads when I had been in other places other than Minnesota, I was like, oh, I should post this for St. Patrick's Day. Because we always make this on St. Patrick's Day and people probably think it's funny.

And then it just blew up from there. And the Jason Show called and then WDAY out of Fargo did a bit on it. And then viral videos happened. And it's kind of been a fun roller coaster ride. And it just keeps going forward.

So it's been-- the most fun is really talking about my community and talking about the people who helped raise me. And that's been the most fun.

CATHY WURZER: So what's the reaction in town? Because some people, some Minnesotans don't appreciate being out on the world stage. They get kind of a little weird about that.

AMBER ESTENSON: Well, mom, for example, does not want to be involved. I wish I could do a whole series on the hair salon because that's super entertaining. And I made her promise that we would do some sort of cameo when I got to a million followers on TikTok. And so she's a little reluctant. But mostly everybody thinks it's great. The [AUDIO OUT]

CATHY WURZER: Well, now, what the heck? With the technology we have here, I'm telling you. Hopefully we'll get-- it's fun talking to Amber. There she is. She's back.

AMBER ESTENSON: I'm here. Sorry.


AMBER ESTENSON: The phone fell asleep. I didn't pay attention to the phone.

CATHY WURZER: OK. Don't worry. You were talking about your mom. Go ahead.

AMBER ESTENSON: Yep. I was talking about my mom, and just the things that she does in the community. And I wanted her to do a cameo when I got to a million followers on TikTok. And she reluctantly agreed.


AMBER ESTENSON: But I could do-- yeah, I could do a whole series on her hair salon. She's like, no way, Jose. But getting to do things in the community is one of my favorite parts.

I participated in the Polar Plunge for the first time ever, for the Boys and Girls Club and raised like over $8,000 in just 10 days. And it's amazing to be part of the community like that in a way that I never even dreamed possible.

CATHY WURZER: Well, you did mention turkey days. And that's coming up, what, at the end of July. So what do you plan on doing for turkey days?

AMBER ESTENSON: Yep. Well, it's the 29th, 30th, and 31st in Frazee, Minnesota. There's the Street Dance on Friday night. There's the Miss Frazee pageant on Saturday evening. I believe I'm co-emceeing. I'm out of town right before turkey days happen, so mom was nervous to have me emcee the whole thing. But I'm co-emceeing the Miss Frazee pageant.

And then there's the parade on Sunday, which of course, is the big thing.

CATHY WURZER: Of course.

AMBER ESTENSON: I'll be in the parade. And the demolition derby afterwards. You know, just filming videos and just letting the world see how we do it in tiny town Minnesota.

CATHY WURZER: Oh. It's just the most perfect thing. OK. So, before you go, because obviously you schooled me on the Snickers salad, thank you very much. I'll have to go ahead and make it. And sorry, obviously, my roots are over in Northeastern Minnesota.

So let's-- can you just give me a really quick salad recipe that's one of your faves?

AMBER ESTENSON: Well, Watergate salad or pistachio fluff salad, it's really just pistachio pudding. A can of crushed pineapple with the juice, you whip that together, add Cool Whip and marshmallows, and that's it.

CATHY WURZER: Perfect. OK. We'll have to try it. Amber, you were a good sport. Thank you for joining us, and best of luck with everything.

AMBER ESTENSON: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

CATHY WURZER: It was fun. Amber Estenson is a TikTok creator from Frazee, Minnesota on Highway 10. Check it out. We'll have more of her videos online. nprnews.org. That was a lot of fun.

And in Frazee right now, it's a beautiful day. It's a gorgeous day around the state of Minnesota with sunshine-- temperatures, it was a little cool earlier this morning. There were some temperatures like, 38 degrees in Hibbing. But right now in Hibbing it's 69. It's 75 in Brainerd and Rochester, Red Wing, Austin, Albert Lea, Downtown St. Paul, Bemidji. It's a lovely Monday. Hope you're out enjoying and listening to us online and on the air.

Have yourselves a good afternoon. Thanks for listening to Minnesota Now on NPR News. 91.1 KNOW Minneapolis St. Paul.

Now, support for Minnesota Now comes from TruStone Financial, a full service credit union working to improve the financial well-being of its neighbors since 1939. Serving individuals and businesses at 23 locations and online at trustone.org. Equal housing opportunity insured by NCUA.

I mentioned in the Twin Cities it's 77 degrees right now. 77 at the airport. The high today, oh, another few, about 82, 83. West winds 10 to 15, partly cloudy skies.

Tonight there's a 50% chance for showers and thunderstorms. And then another 50-50 shot of showers and storms tomorrow with a high of 85. A little more heat, a little more humidity on Wednesday, with highs in the upper 80s, close to 90. Ditto for Thursday with a chance of showers and thunderstorms on Thursday. But then Friday through Sunday, sunshine with highs in the low 80s. Practically perfect.

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