RALEIGH, N.C. — The jokes roll out as soon Charles Broach strides into his all-night shift at the Wake County detention annex: "Here comes Sheriff Grandpa" or "Smells like mothballs."
But at 69, Broach looks younger and more chiseled than half the detention officers lined up for evening inspection. He hammered out three sets of 40 sit-ups in his garage before work, then three sets of 40 push-ups and 30 minutes on his exercise bike — a morning routine.
The inmates may call Broach "Old School," but in a year, nobody has messed with the ex-Marine with his name tattooed on his left forearm, not even at night, when he's locked in a dorm with 40 of them, unarmed. They just ask him where he learned to walk so ramrod-straight.
"Would you like to count the rings on my tail?" Broach, who as far as anybody knows is the county's oldest jailer, says with a laugh.
By any measurement, workers of Broach's generation are keeping full-time jobs well past the age when their parents traded a paycheck for pension:
Between 1977 and 2007, the number of workers 65 and older rose 101 percent, figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show. And in 2007, the first baby-boomers hadn't yet celebrated a 65th birthday, meaning the graying-work force trend will likely grow.
Seniors aren't just clocking in and marking time. Many, like Broach, are toting a young worker's load. In 2009, 45 percent of employees older than 58 worked physically demanding jobs or endured difficult working conditions, including outdoor tasks, high temperatures, heavy loads and hazardous materials, says a report from the Center for Economic Policy and Research.
Broach counts himself lucky.
He doesn't have to work. He gets a federal pension from his last job as recruiter with the Army National Guard. He and his wife, Joyce, draw Social Security. With glaucoma, high-blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, he qualifies for 40 percent disability pay.
But his wife's 401(k) plan took a giant hit during the recession. He still helps his seven children financially. With another paycheck, he can build another 401(k), protect his family with an extra insurance policy and live the kind of life he wants. At his quiet Granville County home, Broach can tend pear trees, make wine from scuppernong grapes and fish in a nearby pond — the sort of life a retiree used to expect.
All it takes is 12-hour night shifts at the jail.
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