New Wrinkle in Hiring: Older Workers Taking Kids' Temp Jobs

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Before the recession hit, Andrew Harvey, 66, who now lives in East Texas, was the second-highest ranking HR manager at one of the biggest hospitals in Kerr County. Laid off, he learned that finding work "was very difficult to do at 65." But his wife was sick, and he needed to make sure she had health coverage. Then, too, he jokes, he and she had gotten used to "this bad habit of eating regularly." He figured that if they were going to keep on eating, he'd better take whatever kind of job he could find.

He eventually landed a part-time Christmas job at Macy's selling women's shoes. He's also worked part-time as a shift manager for Taco Bell.

Being older, he has learned, sometimes works to his advantage. Referring to employers who do not require pre-employment drug-screening tests, he asks, "What do you suppose they get, in terms of applicants? Pretty crummy ones.

"They don't even know what work is," he says. "Most kids today know how to play video games but not how to sweep the floor. I had to show a high school graduate how to use a broom -- literally."

He also found he had to manage his own attitude about taking work he'd previously have rejected as beneath him.

"The key for the older person," he says, "is you have to bring your expectations to the right level. You can't say to yourself, 'I've got a son who is a doctor, and I'm working here at Taco Bell!' You have to realize you can be happy or sad. You have the ability to decide."

Before she was laid off, Tammy McCune, 50, of Fort Worth, earned $75,000 a year as an HR manager for Computer Science Corp. She now makes $7.63 an hour selling jewelry nights and weekends in a Kohl's department store. She got hired the week before Thanksgiving -- two years ago.

She says she'd never had a retail job before, and it's not one she ever would have taken if she didn't have to. But after 18 months without a job, she was grateful to be hired. She finds standing on her feet for hours physically hard. Plus, she says, "Dealing with the general public is different. Everybody wants something for nothing. If there's a 50 percent discount on the jewelry, they ask why it isn't 75 percent. I was used to working in a professional environment. In corporate America, you just said: That's the deal, take it or leave it." She says, "I miss corporate America."

At the time she was hired, it occurred to her she might be taking a younger person's job. But like other older workers interviewed for this story, she says, "You do what you have to do, to survive."

To unemployed adults reluctant to follow her example, she says she'd recommend they do, not so much for the money as for what having a job does for one's sense of self-worth. And having part-time work on your resume, if you're looking for a full-time job, shows a potential employer that you're a go-getter and not content to sit home and collect unemployment.

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