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Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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Stunting growth

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Persistent unemployment is taking a toll on young people, which doesn’t bode well for our society.

Many jobs that have traditionally been filled by teenagers are being taken by older adults as their employment prospects have dried up. This means these young people cannot receive the entry-level job experience they need to use as a springboard for their future careers. How will they compensate for the on-the-job skills they’re not learning?

This also strains the household budgets of adults who are filling these positions. Jobs at companies in the service industry are not designed to satisfy the financial needs of adults who are raising families. The protests held around the country for higher wages for fast-food workers demonstrate the problem.

More adults are falling from the middle class into that of the working poor. The result is a diminished capacity of the tax base needed to support our social safety net for those who truly need help as well as an increase in the number of people who must rely on outside assistance to make ends meet.

“It’s a trend locally — older workers are taking the place of the young,” Cheryl A. Mayforth, executive director of the Workplace employment agency, said in a Monday story in the Watertown Daily Times. “All you have to do is go through a drive-thru restaurant and you’ll see a different face than you’re used to. There are not a lot of younger people that have those jobs here.”

This is what our sluggish economic recovery has left us. And in the north country, it doesn’t look like it will improve anytime soon.

In December, Jefferson County tied Hamilton Country for the second-highest unemployment rate in New York state with 9.1 percent. Lewis County had the third-highest unemployment rate in the state at 8.9 percent.

Enhancing job creation is complicated. It seems like everyone is waiting for everyone else to make the first move before committing to taking on more workers.

There is a built-in motivation for employers to keep their staffing levels where they are. Companies can make do with such levels until they start losing money — and customers — because they can’t service their clients with the number of employees they have.

This takes innovative thinking on the part of employers and community leaders on how to increase existing markets for the businesses in specific regions. Outside of government jobs, the major industry in the north country is agriculture.

The challenge, then, is to find ways to increase markets for agribusinesses. Unlocking this key will lure more adults back into these job sectors and open entry-level positions for young people. Despite the ongoing bad news, we have faith in the creativity of people in the north country to get this done.

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