Editorial: State’s elderly could use some young helpers

Published: 5/9/2019 12:05:24 AM

Last summer a sign appeared on a lawn in front of an East Concord home: “Teen wanted to mow lawn,” followed by a phone number. The sign was up for a month or more. We don’t know if the posters of the sign were successful, but we think not. Nationally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and researchers have reported that far fewer young people work or want to.

The percentage of teens with summer jobs fell from 66% in 1995 to 43% in 2016. Many teens who want to work typically seek jobs in the hospitality and recreation industries only to find them already taken by recent immigrants, senior citizens and underemployed college graduates. Disturbingly, teens from low-income families are the least likely to succeed when job hunting, a study led by Paul Harrington, director of Drexel University’s Center for Labor Markets and Policy in Philadelphia, found. Few such teens or their parents have the connections to families who can afford decent pay for babysitting or yard work, or to employers who need summer help.

Which brings us back to the sign.

New Hampshire is the second oldest state in the nation. Because it’s cheaper to help seniors stay in their homes, which is where they want to be, than to pay nursing home costs, the goal is to help seniors age in place. One of the barriers to that, especially for retirees who lack the means to hire professionals to mow lawns and help with the other chores of home ownership, is the absence of teen help that was available a generation ago.

Many students won’t have time to work. The need to go on to higher education is more important than ever, and school is much more rigorous than it used to be. Education is paramount. Still, students who never work miss out on some of the life skills that can be learned only on the job, like getting along with others, dealing with strangers and managing money.

There are, however, students who want to work and who need the money. Perhaps their needs and those of New Hampshire seniors who need help could both be met with jobs programs run, say, by service organizations, churches or entrepreneurs running an employment agency for teens.

At least one Concord High sports team raises revenue each fall by dividing into teams supervised by adults to rake leaves. Last year, the team had more work than it could handle. Watching them makes clear that working with friends can turn work from drudgery to fun.

Supervision and the vetting of teen workers, something unnecessary when hiring a neighbor’s kid in days of old, will be necessary to protect and assure elderly customers. Teens may also have to be taught to work, to learn how much effort is expected, how much they should accomplish in a given time and what a fair price for their labor would be.

The need is there on both ends. What’s missing is adults to bring the young and old together around paid work.

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