Novel Aides for the Aged
Life is hard for German hookers these days. Sex work was legalized in 2002, and the red-light districts have become increasingly competitive since. Even in the best of times, prostitution is a career seriously lacking in long-term potential.
So when the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia announced a pilot employment program for women of the night, there was a lot of interest. "We wanted to help them find a market where there's a future," says Rita Kuehn, director of the program known as ProFridA.
Specifically, the 50-some participants are being retrained as elder-care workers. It makes perfect sense, says Kuehn, without irony. "Prostitutes have already learned to get along with people, and they're usually very good listeners," she says. "Plus, they have no reservations about touching people's bodies."
Shortages. The trainees are part of several innovative efforts in Germany to solve a serious manpower shortage. The country is aging fast; estimates are that by 2050, a third of the population will be over 65, and more than 700,000 people will need places in some kind of facility. Already, the national employment office estimates that 6,500 elder-care jobs need filling-in a country with 12 percent unemployment.
Solutions have ranged from recruiting draft dodgers to combining old-age homes with kindergartens. Germany's Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth has created 200 "multigeneration houses," community centers that mix facilities for seniors with youth centers, preschools, and job training schools. Every year, instead of joining the military, about 100,000 young German men spend their nine months of obligatory national service working in facilities that care for the elderly or handicapped, making home visits, or running errands for the housebound.
For teenagers, the first few weeks can be tough. "They usually won't admit it, but a lot of them are afraid at first," says Jürgen Thor, who works for the Evangelical Church in Muenster. "Most of them haven't had much contact with old people or people with handicaps."
Kuehn thinks that her trainees will have an easier time adjusting to the job.
This story appears in the March 26, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.