Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Second Demise of Our Family Newspaper Delivery Business

About a year and a half ago I wrote a post about our kids starting to deliver newspapers again. When I recently received an email about that post I realized that I had never done a follow up. In short, our second foray into the news delivery business lasted only a few brief months. And then it was over. Maybe this time for good.

The brokered deal was that sons #3 and #4 would split the route. Son #4 was never able to fulfill his part of the deal, owing in part to some medical issues. In addition, we ultimately discovered that he had Asperger Syndrome and major depression disorder. Mornings were (are) not a happening thing for him. The every-morning grind soon wore enough on son #3 that he willingly gave up the route along with its small but useful stream of income.

As I suggested in my post last year, early morning news delivery routes are rarely as good for families as were the afternoon delivery routes of my childhood. Back in those ancient days I would come home from school and spend an hour or even less delivering newspapers. It wasn't too bad.

The more challenging part was going door to door each month collecting subscription fees from my customers. In the five years that I was a news carrier I learned some intriguing lessons about people's attitudes about money and how various families managed their finances. I never did understand those that would lie to a kid over a matter of five and a half bucks that they clearly owed. I also noted that I became so fond of the twenty-five cent tip one guy would give me each month that I would put his paper inside his storm door every day. I enjoyed the tip while he paid less than a penny per day for the service.

Today's news carriers don't worry at all about collecting subscriptions, since they are handled through the newspaper's billing system. If someone doesn't pay their bill, the news carrier simply gets a notice not to deliver the paper to that home. Problem solved. It's nice for the carriers, but they don't get the real life financial education that I got.

While early morning news delivery hasn't worked well for our family, another family down the street has turned it into a profitable business. I think they are up to five or six routes now. These are all automobile routes where newspapers are shoved into tubes on mailbox posts. The family nets more than can be earned from most part time jobs. But they get up at 3:00 AM every day, regardless of weather, desires, family situations, etc. Of course, their kids are older than ours. But I still don't think we'd be able to pull that off even if our kids were older.

Many parents are interested in helping their children learn good work ethic, as this is a gift that keeps giving throughout life. Newspaper delivery used to be one of the kinds of jobs kids could easily do. Once newspapers made the shift from afternoon to morning delivery, news delivery stopped being a natural fit for kids.

Other kinds of job opportunities exist. Last spring my mother-in-law hired an enterprising neighborhood boy to mow her lawn. But the situation ended up being less than reliable, so it didn't work out well for Mom. I think that the young man underestimated the difficulty of the labor and the level of business costs. Kids could earn fairly well in Mom's neighborhood doing yard care and snow removal. But they would have to establish a reliable system. Usually that means having more than one worker as well as parents that will back up the business.

In an effort to eliminate child labor abuse our society has made it increasingly difficult for children to find productive work. Some of this is also simply the result of an expanding economy. Many little jobs that kids used to do have long been overtaken by technology.

While the theory behind jobs for kids can be fodder for discussion, what I can tell you for sure is that early morning news delivery simply doesn't work well for our family. Maybe it's a different story for your family.

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