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ELKHART -- Outside the Pierre Moran library branch, all was quiet Sunday morning.
A few stray cars wheeled into the parking lot before the noon opening time then made a U-turn and headed in other directions. About 11:45 a.m., Edward Joseph parked his car and took a seat on a makeshift stool by the door.
The 44-year-old Elkhart resident was the first in line waiting to get to the computers inside so he could file for his weekly unemployment benefits.
Over the course of Elkhart's struggles with the Great Recession, Sunday mornings at Pierre Moran have been a kind of barometer as to just how bad things were. Laid-off workers started showing up at the branch in July 2008 and the numbers continued to escalate into to what was described as a "mob scene" with the unemployed forming a long line more than an hour prior to the doors being unlocked.
The library eventually began opening an hour earlier and making every computer among the stacks available to accommodate the crowd.
More cars filled the parking lot once the Benham Avenue branch opened yesterday and local residents silently filtered in.
Joseph held a small sheet of paper, listing the names the companies he had applied to that week, and logged on to the state's unemployment website. He was not sure where all the people were but pointed out more places around town are offering computer time so not everyone has to go to the library.
He did not say the smaller group was a sign that jobs are returning.
The economy "seems to be picking up," Joseph deadpanned, "like a turtle, a dead turtle."
Although economists have varying views on where the economy will go next -- from a depression to a double-dip recession to deflation to an extended period of high unemployment and slow growth -- they all agree with Joseph's assessment: the recovery has slowed and storm clouds appear to be forming on the horizon.
Taylor Fields was the first to arrive at the Pierre Moran branch Sunday. After pulling into the lot about 11:40 a.m., she opened her laptop computer and filled out the unemployment forms by accessing the free wireless Internet service at the library.
Since getting laid-off from her job at a local nursing home in July, Fields, a certified nursing assistant, said she has felt lost. The 21-year-old has never really had to look hard for work and now she worries about stretching her weekly unemployment check to cover food and rent and utilities.
"(My family has) cut back on everything we buy. I feel like I have let my kids down because what they want, they want," she said. "They're young. They don't know the difference."
Fields has returned to school to become a certified medical assistant. Noting the job openings she has seen posted from area hospitals, she believes she will be able to get one of those jobs after she finishes her training in October.
Joseph has bounced between short-term assignments and lost his last job at a factory warehouse three weeks ago. Working has become a day-to-day thing, leaving him to pray that a job continues so he can go back the next day.
"America needs to get back on its feet," he said. "It needs to be the great country it once was. It's going to hell in a handbasket."
When asked what specifically should be done to restore the economy and bring back jobs, Joseph echoed the uncertainty of many by saying he did not know.