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Mortuary Science Becoming More Popular

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
September 14, 2009

Mortuary science, which trains for the business and science of death, is fast garnering greater interest throughout the country as the unemployed seek more secure jobs.

The Detroit Free Press reports that the Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Illinois saw a 20 percent increase in enrollment this year over last, and Wayne State University's mortuary science program has more students than it can handle. Similarly, the Associated Press notes that Kim Linduska, executive vice president of Des Moines Area Community College in Iowa, said that the school's mortuary science program has a waiting list.

Although removing bodily fluids and preparing corpses for burial are not glamorous or simple tasks, mortuary science is becoming an attractive career choice because death is considered by many to be a stable business. CityTownInfo notes that in 2008, average salaries for funeral directors ran just less than $52,000, although in some areas, such as Boston, average pay for the profession was as high as $90,000.

John Jacobson, 22, who works at a funeral home in Dekalb, Illionois, explained to the Associated Press that the appeal of the funeral industry is that despite the economy, it never slows down.

Yet that assertion is only partially true. While the economic downturn is obviously not causing people to stop dying, it is most certainly affecting the amount families are able to pay for caskets, wakes and burials. Last April, the National Funeral Directors Association gathered to bring attention to the economic hardships that funeral homes are now facing.

"The thing about death and taxes being a certainty--it's not true, obviously," said Chris Raymond, an official with the association, who was quoted by The Washington Post.

In a nod to the trend, the Bristol Herald Courier in Tennessee reports that the area is seeing an increase in pauper burials, which include an hour-long visitation in the chapel and either cremation or burial in a simple silver casket.

"In most cases, it's the folks who just don't have the means to pay for a funeral," said Tom Barnett, funeral director at Weaver Funeral Home. "Not everyone is fortunate to have a job or to have any assets" to pay for funeral expenses.

As a result of the increase in need, county officials are considering doubling the amount of money designated for pauper burials in this year's budget. Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey, whose office supervises the pauper burial program, hopes to double the program's funding from $10,200 to $20,000.

In pauper burials, funeral homes receive a check for $750 to cover some of the expenses. But according to Barnett, a typical funeral costs $6,500. And funeral directors expect that pauper burials are very likely to increase.

"I figure we'll have even more if the economy stays the way it is," noted Kenny Arnold, funeral director for Tetrick Funeral Home.

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