Factories that become more automated require fewer employees. Many locally-owned businesses have been replaced by regional, national and international companies. Furloughs and layoffs are more commonplace, and people who spend years working in one industry have seen their jobs disappear.
Crowder said family dynamics have changed. People used to have more kids, and they usually didn't move far from where their parents lived.
"When people got older, they had a natural support system," he said.
Now, family members are fewer and more scattered. Even worse, many older Americans are taking on extra burdens. In some cases, grandparents who were just getting by in life find themselves taking on the role of caretaker.
"You've got a tremendous number of people across this country who are elderly that are raising their grandkids," Crowder said. "They're the sole provider for them."
Planning for life's challenges rarely follows a straight path. Economic downturns happen, lives change, and the chain of events people hoped would carry them into a comfortable retirement doesn't always play out.
"What people had anticipated, what people had worked toward suddenly changed, and that has caused all sorts of ripples in our business," said Dr. Bill Sellers, associate dean of career and technical education at Wallace Community College.
The college works to cater its curriculum to the local job market.
"As we discover needs in the community, we build programs based on those needs," said Vincent Vincent, the coordinator of noncredit training at WCC. "We're seeing lots of people 50-plus wanting to come back to school, either out of necessity or out of just wanting to contribute to society still."
Phillip Kitchens, a student in the associate degree nursing program at WCC, is one of them.
"When I was in high school, I worked in a nursing home as an orderly," Kitchens said. "I really enjoyed my job, and that was what I wanted to do."
He thought he'd have the opportunity to go into some type of medical field when he went into the military, "but the Air Force had different plans for me, and they put me in law enforcement."
Once he got into law enforcement, he liked it. He was a deputy sheriff in Houston County for a while, then worked 15 years for Movie Gallery until its corporate office moved to Oregon.
He and his wife opened Cold Stone Creamery, near Carmike Cinemas. Owning a business means you have to come up with your own insurance plan.
"My premiums have doubled," he said. "It's like you're at the point (where) I don't know if I can afford to pay for insurance like that."
When he saw an opportunity to pursue a nursing degree, he took it. He's looking for a career that will provide benefits and carry him into his late 60s, maybe even his 70s.
"When I first started school, it was a little intimidating because I was thinking I'm going to be in there with all of these kids and I'm going to be the oldest guy in the room, and that wasn't the case," he said.
Attitudes about work and retirement have changed in the last few years. Administrators at WCC have noticed the signs.
Sellers said some workers who planned to retire at a certain age are concerned about leaving when they're on solid ground with a good job. "They are spending many more years in the workforce than they thought they would initially," he said.
Vincent said a couple of months after some people retire they realize "they're bored out of their mind and want to go back."
Michael Mulgrew has been district manager at Kelly Services in Dothan for only a few weeks, but has already noticed a lot of teachers coming out of retirement to pick up extra work as substitute teachers.
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