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As the economy lags, more older workers decide to go it alone

NEW YORK — Calling the shots isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. But for people over 50, it’s become a more popular choice.

Tony Uzzi knows about that. At 52, after 30 years in traditional jobs, he accepted a buyout from a pharmaceutical company and went into business for himself. Now, instead of having a predictable schedule as a salesman, he has work that can interrupt just about anything — even dinners out.

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Once, Uzzi was in a restaurant with his wife, and the wine was being uncorked. The next minute, he was dashing off to make sure an elderly client of his Nurse Next Door senior care franchise was OK.

‘‘It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week,’’ Uzzi says.

For most Americans, exiting the rat race to start a business is a passing thought. And as people age, a pension or a 401(k) plan with an employer match is too comfortable to let go. During the Great Recession and its aftermath, however, the number of people over 50 who started companies grew. Almost always, running a business after decades of working for someone else is an adjustment.

Research by the Kauffman Foundation, which studies entrepreneurship, shows that more people ages 55 to 64 turned to business ownership during and after the Great Recession. Its index of entrepreneurial activity among people in that age group rose from 2007 to 2009 and logged a scant decline in 2010.

Some keep working in the industry in which they have spent entire careers. That was a confidence booster for Lori Ames, who started her public relations company, The PR Freelancer, in 2010.

“Being 53 and having enough work and life experience made me go into this in a smart way,’’ says Ames, who launched her business after her 22-year-old son was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. She decided that running her own company would give her the flexibility to care for her son and allow her to work near her Babylon, N.Y., home.

She wasn’t worried about getting clients after having done book publicity and other public relations in Manhattan for more than 20 years. What was daunting was the prospect of becoming an employer for the first time. Ames’s business grew so much that nine months after she started the company she was able to hire the first of her two staffers.But the responsibility that comes with being responsible for someone else’s salary was stressful.

‘‘That was more nerve-wracking than starting a business,’’ she says.

A lot of older entrepreneurs turn to franchises, which come with a ready-made business and marketing plan — and often a well-known name like Subway.

Starting a company while still working for someone else is another route. William Ryan is a salesman for a Boston-area consumer products company. But last month, at 52, he also opened a franchise — a Lapels dry cleaning business. His goal is to help pay for college for his two children. He’s also concerned about the job market.

Ryan is in the store weekends. During the week, it’s staffed by two part-timers.

Owning a company for the first time has a learning curve.

But the work is worth it, he says.

‘‘I’ve got that fire in me,’’ Ryan­ says. ‘‘This is something I always wanted to do.’’

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