File photo of a woman loading her vehicle outside a Wal-Mart in Deptford, NJ © Matt Rourke, AP

I'll be 64 in December. I worked as an electrical engineer in the automotive electronics industry for 35 years at Delphi in Kokomo, Ind. I unexpectedly retired in 2007. The company was going into bankruptcy and getting new management. They were trying to figure out how to downsize, and they offered me an early retirement. In the next three to five years I definitely would have retired anyway.

My wife, Jackie, was a teacher. We grew up in Orlando, and we are probably the only relatives of our immediate family that moved away. We had always intended to move back in retirement. So, after my retirement, I worked as a contract engineer in Kokomo for probably six months. In 2008, after Jackie finished out the school year, we moved back to Florida so we could help out our parents and enjoy warm weather. Now we're 18 miles outside of Orlando, in Winter Garden.

After I retired, things got a lot worse at Delphi. The company completely went into bankruptcy. With the early retirement, they had bumped up my pension payments to what I would have made at the age of full retirement. Then the pension fund was taken over by the (federal) Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., and they said, "We're going to cut your retirement by approximately 34%." They raised my share of the health insurance costs, too. I went from paying about $100 a month for my wife and me to paying $1,300 a month.

We were blessed to be in a situation where we were OK. We always knew that you need to have six months of savings to withstand these catastrophes that are going to happen in your life. But we couldn't sustain ourselves in this mode. I needed to work, for health insurance if nothing else.

When I was shopping one day in Wal-Mart, I think the Lord put it on my heart to say, "Why don't you put in an application?" It probably took 20 or 30 minutes. I told them I'd work anywhere in central Florida.

In about a week I got a call from a store in Sanford, probably a 35-minute ride from home. They needed a cart pusher, somebody to bring the carts in. During the interview process I talked with three or four different managers. The last one was the store manager. Based on what he saw in the application, he said to me, "You're not a cart pusher. You'll do better in electronics." He was right. I liked electronics, and I've always been involved with consumer electronics.

My store now is a Wal-Mart Supercenter, in Orlando. The job is definitely different from what I grew up in. I was an electrical engineer and became a middle manager in the Delphi organization. I did have some customer interaction: I would talk with General Motors, Ford and other automotive members about using our products, or how we were going to solve product problems.

But the retail sales environment is different than being in the technical world. It's probably the toughest job I have ever had from the standpoint of dealing with the public. The public expects me to know more about the products, certainly, than they do. And they expect us to have the products they need at all times.

With a customer walking in off the street, you've got to earn their respect. I've got to be able to show them that I have a knowledge in electronics and that I can get them the product that's best for their needs. Once I understand what they need and how they're going to use it, if I can describe what's in that laptop and explain to them that item A is better for their needs than item B, usually they realize, "He knows what he's talking about." That's probably the enjoyable part, discussing with customers and getting them the right product.

I also like the interaction you have with the employees. We're all from different backgrounds. I'm one of the oldest employees in the store. Interacting with younger people is good. The younger associates see how I work, and I think that rubs off. I might see a 24-year-old sales associate watch me talking to a customer, and later I hear him repeating some of the same things to his customers.

My health insurance for my wife and me through Wal-Mart is about $300 monthly. Having the health insurance is such a big benefit at my stage that it's really worth more than dollars would say. Also, I get a Social Security stipend once a month as long as my income from work doesn't exceed a certain amount. I'm probably working in the range of 35 to 38 hours a week. Wal-Mart will give me as many hours as I can tolerate. So, I would say it's good now. We aren't having to dip into our 401k.

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Jackie does a lot of volunteer work and helps out with her mother. She had stayed home during our childbearing years, so she didn't have 35 years of pension accumulated.

My plan when I started at Wal-Mart was that I would work until both Jackie and I could get to Medicare. She is two years younger, so that means working to 68. I might consider working beyond that time. I like to be organized. I like schedules. Before my Wal-Mart employment I was mowing our parents' yards, and I did some tutoring on the side, but I wasn't fully occupied with anything. Looking back on it, I think I didn't have the kind of structure I wanted.

Americans 55 and older make up nearly 22% of the work force, up from 15% a decade ago, and many of them work at Wal-Mart. The retail chain is the nation's largest private employer by far, with about 1.4 million people on the payroll, earning an average of $12.67 an hour. About 400,000, or 29%, of Wal-Mart's workers are 50 or older.

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