L.G. Patterson/AP
Dorie Clark studies for an upcoming first responder test during his law enforcement
training class.

Recession Forces Later-Life Career Changes

May 11, 2009 08:00 AM
by Anne Szustek
After being laid off from his factory job, 65-year-old Dorie Clark has started training as a police officer. He is one of many older Americans who must take on a new career to pay the bills.

Unemployment, Child Care Press Older Man Into Law Enforcement

Eldon, Mo. resident Dorie Clark stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 190 pounds. He often outpaces many of his fellow recruits at the University of Missouri’s Law Enforcement Training Institute during their 1.5-mile morning run. Clark’s instructor, Gary Maddox, is confident that he’ll do “a fine job” as an officer, he told the Kansas City Star.

Clark is 65 years old. After getting laid off from his factory job in September, he needed to supplement his Social Security payments and retirement income, because he is the legal guardian of his ex-girlfriend’s 6-year-old son. He had taken a job at a convenience store when he was inspired to enter law enforcement.
“My body might be telling me I’m crazy for doing this, but I’m like the little engine that could,” Clark told the Kansas City Star.

The Vietnam veteran had already worked as a reserve officer and a sheriff’s deputy jailer, as well as a private investigator and a security guard.

The fitness requirements in the fitness programs in which Clark participates are age-adjusted; for example, he doesn’t need to be able to do as many pushups as his 20-something classmates. Clark himself has said that he is concerned a department might not take him on when he finishes his training. But law enforcement organizations say trends show otherwise. National Association of Chiefs of Police President Jack Rinchich said that some law enforcement groups are in strong need of applicants. Retired applicants are welcome, their life experience considered an asset.

Clark’s instructor has noticed a recent uptick in the number of older police recruits. As the national unemployment rate hits a 25-year-high of 8.5 percent, more and more middle-aged workers have been forced to forge new career trajectories as they near retirement.

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Background: Middle-age workers competing with younger people for work

In February, some 4.8 million Americans became unemployed. But according to statistics from the Bureau of Labor cited by The New York Times, some 4.3 million were hired that same month, many of them in hourly positions at restaurants and discount stores, which have been faring well during this recession.

Zachary Schaefer, a partner in a new fast-food restaurant location in Surprise, Ariz., said that the restaurant has taken on 72 new workers since February, with many of the applicants middle-aged.

Amusement park chain Six Flags has also noted an increase in of older job applicants. “We’ve seen retirees. We’ve seen people who have been laid off,” Six Flags spokesperson Sandra Daniels told USA Today. Full-time workers looking for extra money, such as teachers, are also applying.

Employers offering hourly wage jobs appreciate the experience and maturity older workers bring, which makes it tougher for teenagers and college students to find part-time jobs. In March the unemployment rate for 16-to-19-year olds was 21.7 percent, compared to 15.8 percent a year earlier. Spring Lake, N.J. teen Jane Swett told USA Today that her lack of experience is hurting her job search. “I want to work … I’m looking everywhere.”

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