A year after NASA ended the three-decade-long U.S. space shuttle program, thousands of formerly well-paid engineers and other workers around the Kennedy Space Center are still struggling to find jobs to replace the careers that flourished when shuttles blasted off from the Florida “Space Coast.”
Some have headed to South Carolina to build airplanes in that state’s growing industry, and others have moved as far as Afghanistan to work as government contractors. Some found lower-paying jobs beneath their technical skills that allowed them to stay. Many are still looking for work and cutting back on things like driving and utilities to save money.
“Nobody wants to hire the old guy,” said Terry White, a 62-year-old former project manager who worked 33 years for the shuttle program until he was laid off after Atlantis landed last July 21. “There just isn’t a lot of work around here. Or if so, the wages are really small.”
White earned more than $100,000 a year at the end of his career at the space center. The prospects of finding a job that pay anywhere near that along the Space Coast are slim.
“I could take an $11-an-hour job that is 40 miles away,” he said “But with gas prices and all that, it’s not really worthwhile.”
More than 7,400 people, who once had labored on one of history’s most complicated engineering achievements, lost their jobs when the shuttle program ended last July. While other shuttle workers in Houston, New Orleans and Huntsville, Ala., lost jobs, those areas had bigger economies to absorb the workers. In less economically diverse Brevard County, the mainly contractor positions cut by NASA accounted for just under 5 percent of the county’s private sectors jobs.
The Kennedy Space Center’s current workforce of 8,500 workers is the smallest in more in than 35 years. In the middle of the last decade, the space center employed around 15,000 workers.