The backbone of the real estate industry has always been people who are entering a second career, and this current economic crisis will surely produce folks who are looking for them. There are several factors that make mid-life entrants successful in real estate: maturity; life experience, including often significant personal real estate and relocation experience; savings, pensions, or other financial cushions; contacts; and transferable sales skills. Our history has shown that people who enter real estate in a down period tend to do better over time, probably because they are forced to learn skills and strategies that those entering in boom times don't always acquire. Also, those starting in the profession now will be training and getting licenses now, and will be ready to take advantage of the recovery just down the road.
It may also be possible for those retooling from other jobs to receive economic stimulus money for the interim period. I am looking into this with local job center officials. Both residential and commercial fields are always eager for new blood and new backgrounds, but it takes time to get up and running, and will probably take longer in this economy for new agents to earn a living selling real estate (In case there are readers who do not know this, real estate agents are 1099 independent contractors, who are paid entirely on commission). However, there are many wonderful things about being an independent contractor, and we like to point out that it is one of the original "equal pay for equal work" industries. You eat what you kill, as we also say. Good agents do well in every kind of market, and this one is no exception.
So, if you are reading this during your job search, you might want to consider real estate, where your relationships and prior skills can help you launch a new career today!