How do I find my aging dad a job?
October 14, 2008 8:58 AM   Subscribe

What sorts of jobs might my retirement-age father be able to pursue to keep up with expenses?

My dad is basically Willy Loman.

He grew up on a farm in Guyana, worked his way through college, and had great success as a salesman in the agricultural technology industry there when the country started going downhill. He and my mother and siblings emigrated to Canada, where he worked as a driver for the local public transit utility. They moved to Florida and he indulged his entrepreneurial dreams, creating from scratch a thriving maintenance company with a few relatively high-wattage contracts. When that business began to decline during the Gulf War era, he sold it, and began a vending/catering company, which was less successful. Over most of the next decade, he tried to recapture the shine of his first business in America with depressing results, augmenting a thin stream of income with decreasingly remunerative stints as a town car driver, insurance salesman, customer service representative, and Sears phone salesman, which he now does full-time.

My mom has done much better; she's gone from being a housewife (while I was growing up) to administrative assistant to Realtor to chief administrator of a medium-sized department at a stable local company. She's now the breadwinner of the couple.

This would all be fine and sustainable, except for the now-familiar turn this story is about to take. My parents ill-advisedly purchased a big house in 2003, and they are chronically late on their mortgage payments, near the point of initiating foreclosure. Foreclosure would be an unmitigated disaster for my entire family, not to mention that the toll on my non-young parents would approach too-great-to-bear territory.

My dad has no illusions about matching my mom's salary, but if he could ditch the $25k/yr Sears position for something more profitable, it might help them keep their heads above water until they could sell the house. He's an awful typist and bad at computers generally, despite my best efforts to teach him. Otherwise, though, he's an intelligent man, a hard worker, great with his hands, a steady driver, a gregarious and interesting conversationalist, with a lifetime of varied experiences.

If I could work in the city where my parents live and contribute on my salary, I would do it in a heartbeat. But I'm still building what looks to be a promising career, and where they've settled, there are no opportunities for me. But I can't accept that my dad, despite his age and whatever foolishness inspired him to buy that house, isn't capable of earning more than $25k a year.

Is there an industry we should be exploring for him? Is there an investment I could make or a trade he could learn that might help him bring in a more robust income?

This is a tough question to submit; I guess all the anonymous ones are. But your parents are gods to you until you grow up, and the process of seeing them be diminished by the world can be incredibly painful.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sadly, the job market for older, non-executive/professional-level Americans is rotten. Doubly-so if they haven't been steadily working in those professions. Unless your dad has some amazing, valuable skillset or experience that an employer simply can't find in a younger employee, the chances of him finding something better than his 25k/yr job is pretty low.

It sounds like they really need to sell that house and get into more affordable housing or rental.

Is your dad handy with his hands? A lot of seniors supplement their income by making little craft items for local touristy boutiques. Not sure if that could replace the 25k/yr, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:40 AM on October 14, 2008

Is your dad able to garden? Does that big house also have a big sunny yard? I'm not sure what demand is like where your parents live, but it seems people always want to buy locally grown organic produce, a small market garden might help cut food expenses, if nothing else in the way of profits.
posted by glip at 9:48 AM on October 14, 2008

AARP has a listing of companies that look for older employees. Not sure he would make over $25k/year at any of them, but some income is better than none.

My brother, who's in his 50s, was looking for a job a few years back. He finally got hired with his state's prison system as a guard. It's not wonderful, but steady pay, benefits and a retirement plan. He seems to be doing well and management seems to like him...he shows up and does his job, unlike the younger employees who don't seem to last very long.

Another alternative is volunteer work. No paycheck, but the networking and contacts are valuable.
posted by socrateaser at 9:50 AM on October 14, 2008

They need to sell the house.

This country does not value the contributions of the older generation. Even if he could learn a trade, he would be competing with people more than half his age. And faced with hiring a 24 year old with no experience vs. your dad with no experience, most employers are going to take the 24 year old, who won't use/need all their benefits and won't be very demanding. And most importantly, far too many people have a problem managing someone older than they are. People in their 40s with education and experience have trouble getting interviews because of ageism.

My only helpful thought was that perhaps he could volunteer at the SBDC (small business development co, every stage has them) and perhaps a worthwhile opportunity would come out of his connections from that activity.

I know you don't want to think about it, but they are going to have to sell that house, and soon, before there is no market at all.
posted by micawber at 10:02 AM on October 14, 2008

My uncle had no education higher than high school and had been a roofer most of his life. He finally got out of that business after yet another co-worker was blown off of the roof in a high wind. He was in his 50s and couldn't afford to retire. He found a job as custodian for a local junior high school. It wasn't a glamorous job, but he really enjoyed it - low-stress, union wages, good benefits and he got to keep anything from the lost and found that wasn't claimed after a certain amount of time. A friend of mine quit her clerical job to take a housekeeping position at Henry Ford Hospital; she made more money and only had to work 30 hours per week to qualify for full benefits.

Custodial work is probably a step down for your entrepreneurial dad, but he might want to check into the local school systems and hospitals and look at their job postings.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:08 AM on October 14, 2008

How's his back? Sales and driving experience might fit with a Coke or a snack route. I know a Coke route is hard work and much lifting, but there's also chips or backed goods.

They make good money, work out with the people and when you finish the work you get to go home. Friend of mine had a coke route, and the money was good. Since he's just starting, his route is likely to be crappy, but the money can make up for that.
posted by wrnealis at 10:28 AM on October 14, 2008

I would look into the Post Office. I don't know much about getting a job there, but I've known several older people w/out a higher education who had surprisingly high paid jobs there just sorting the mail.
posted by whoaali at 10:52 AM on October 14, 2008

There are a lot of companies who want older, native English speakers as telemarketers because they convey a respectability that outsourcing to young, non-native speakers does not.

Also, if he cleans up well, there are places looking for older, distinguished greeters. There is a market for the older generation, especially if they're white male native speakers.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:02 AM on October 14, 2008

Oops. I assumed he didn't have much of an accent but I don't know why I thought that. Ignore my post please...
posted by small_ruminant at 11:03 AM on October 14, 2008

"he's an intelligent man, a hard worker, great with his hands, a steady driver, a gregarious and interesting conversationalist, with a lifetime of varied experiences"

How about ... an investigator for a private detective agency? No, seriously. Sounds like he might have the people skills for it. And other skills. And age could be an advantage. (As for having no direct experience - well, you have start somewhere.)

Maybe some kind of management job.

Pharmaceutical sales?
posted by coffeefilter at 11:33 AM on October 14, 2008

Ooo- a P.I. would be perfect! Or even a secret shopper/ plain clothes security guy at Whole Foods or whereever.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:54 AM on October 14, 2008

The private investigator suggestion is really interesting, and there are options even beyond working with a private agency (e.g., insurance agencies, department stores, etc.). Float it past your dad... there are training courses he could take (online and maybe even locally, depending on where in Florida they live) to meet his state requirements.

On another note in terms of generating immediate income, would it be possible for your parents to take in a boarder at their house?
posted by scody at 11:59 AM on October 14, 2008

Could he supplement his current job with a small business as a handyman? Many people can no longer do basic home maintenance and would be really happy to have someone dependable who charges reasonable prices.

Coffeefilter, I thought pharmaceutical salespeople were all young and good looking...
posted by Bunglegirl at 12:27 PM on October 14, 2008

I'm not sure what the salary is like, but what about a welcome or visitor center, I know they often hire older people.

Scody's room letting suggestion is an excellent one! If there are any schools or programs in the area your parents could contact them about finding a boarder. When I was a kid there was a local program for harpists, and my mom would rent our back bedroom and bathroom out to a single woman for a few months at a time. Starting with a known program would probably increase the caliber of applicants.
posted by robinpME at 1:07 PM on October 14, 2008

My parents ill-advisedly purchased a big house in 2003, and they are chronically late on their mortgage payments, near the point of initiating foreclosure.

An extra job might help, but your parents urgently need to pursue a workout or loan modification. These are rare in good times, but the banks are not eager to foreclose now, so they need to find out if they are eligible. (One program). They could try selling, but if the housing supply in their market is anywhere near national averages, it could take too long.

If it's really a big house, is there any way they could rent out a room or two to help with the mortgage? That would pay off sooner than a career change.

Working on my own parents' overextension issues, anonymous. My sympathies.
posted by dhartung at 2:35 PM on October 14, 2008

Hi Anon,

My father is from Guyana as well. Story so familiar, I just sighed deeply. And I just wanted to say I'm sending all my good thoughts your way as you all work through this together.
posted by anitanita at 7:16 PM on October 14, 2008

Why doesn't your father put those sales skills to work and start a "custodial" (or any contractor based) business, basically rounding up work for those who have a hard time selling their skills. It would probably suit his nature and get him out and about. Can't say squat for the house, although they could probably go into the room rental business on the side to cover expenses until income from work improves.
posted by ptm at 5:56 AM on October 15, 2008

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