The best recession-proof jobs

In The Little Book of Bull Moves in Bear Markets (which I recently reviewed), author Peter Schiff provides a list of the best jobs to beat the economic collapse he predicts is just around the corner. “I foresee the following as the 10 strongest professions and industries over the coming decade and beyond,” he writes. His list:

  1. Engineering, because the abandoned U.S. industrial base will need to be re-tooled.
  2. Construction, to rebuild the American infrastructure.
  3. Agriculture, as we wean ourselves from imported foodstuffs.
  4. Merchant marine, to transport goods to foreign markets.
  5. Commercial fishing, because demand for fish is increasing in the U.S. even as foreign supply is declining.
  6. Energy, because we'll need to develop alternatives to fossil fuels.
  7. Computers and high technology, one field in which the U.S. continues to lead.
  8. Entertainment, another industry in which the U.S. should continue to dominate the world market.
  9. Automotive repair, small appliance repair, and the like. It's going to become more costly to replace items, making repair a viable option.
  10. Tailoring and textiles, because imported clothes will become scarcer and more expensive.

This list is predicated on Schiff's belief that the U.S. economy is in massive collapse. He also lists job sectors he believes will decline sharply: the service economy, banking and finance, real estate, health care, travel and tourism, and retailing. If you have a job in one of these industries, Schiff recommends planning for a career change.

Schiff's advice made me curious. What do other experts think are the safest jobs for riding out this recession? I did some digging to find out.

A Second Opinion

There's actually a new book out on this subject called 150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs by Laurence Shatkin, a career information consultant. His top ten recession-proof jobs are:

  1. Computer systems analyst
  2. Network systems and data communications analyst
  3. Network and computer systems administrator
  4. Registered nurse
  5. Teacher, postsecondary (i.e., college professors)
  6. Physical therapist
  7. Physician and surgeon
  8. Dental hygienist
  9. Pharmacist
  10. Medical and health services manager

The San Diego Union-Tribune recently featured a profile of Shatkin and his book, in which he explains that he derived his list from government statistics. Contrast this with Schiff's list, which is based not on past data, but on his prediction of the future. It seems to me that these men are coming at the problem from different angles, and their lists reflect that. They're nearly opposites.

Challenger, Gray and Christmas

There are other experts with their own ideas about which jobs are best in a recession. Representatives from the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas made the rounds earlier this year with their list of recession-proof jobs, which included the following rising professions:

  1. Education
  2. Energy
  3. Health care
  4. International business
  5. Environment
  6. Security and law enforcement

They also note a few jobs in which the prospects are declining:

  • Anything related to housing (including real estate, investment banking, engineering, and architecture)
  • State and local government
  • Industries dependent on discretionary spending (e.g. restaurants and retail)

The advice from Challenger, Gray and Christmas is slightly different than that of either of the first two lists. The only real agreement among these three different sources is that industries related to housing and to discretionary spending are in for hard times.

The Jobfox list

Finally, Jobfox, a job-matching website, has been sharing its list of the top 20 in-demand jobs based on statistics for the past year. Forbes published a version of the list, as did Business Week, which created a slide show including median salaries for these careers:

  1. Sales representative/business development ($65,000-$75,000)
  2. Software design/development ($85,000-$95,000)
  3. Nursing ($35,000-$45,000)
  4. Accounting & finance executive ($65,000-$75,000)
  5. Accounting staff ($45,000-$55,000)
  6. Networking/systems administration ($65,000-$75,000)
  7. Administrative assistant ($35,000-$45,000)
  8. Business analysis (software implementation) ($85,000-$95,000)
  9. Business analysis (research) ($65,000-$75,000)
  10. Finance staff ($65,000-$75,000)
  11. Project management ($85,000-$95,000)
  12. Testing/quality assurance ($65,000-$75,000)
  13. Product management ($85,000-$95,000)
  14. Database administration ($75,000-$85,000)
  15. Account/customer support ($35,000-$45,000)
  16. Technology executive ($115,000-$125,000)
  17. Electrical engineering ($65,000-$75,000)
  18. Sales executive ($85,000-$95,000)
  19. Mechanical engineering ($65,000-$75,000)
  20. Government contracts administration ($55,000-$65,000)

This list points to three broad paths for those wishing to avoid the effects of the recession: management, computer science, and accounting. But again, this list is very different from the others.

Aside: Looking at these median salaries makes me a little envious. During 2007, the median salary for guys named J.D. employed by small family box factories in Oregon was $42,000 a year. I wonder how much sooner I might have repaid my debt if I'd done something else for a career…like become a “technology executive”.

Four Experts, Four Opinions

What conclusion do you draw from looking at these lists? The top lesson I get is that nobody can agree on which jobs are best for riding out a recession. As we've seen time and again when people try to predict the future, everybody has a different methodology, and everybody comes to a different conclusion. Nobody will be 100% correct.

I believe that in general, the most recession-proof job is the one you already have. If your current career is fulfilling and pays well, then do what you can to make yourself indispensable. Develop your skill-set. Be a valuable contributor. Keep a positive attitude. Network your way to job security. These things won't help if your company undergoes massive lay-offs, but they will protect you from casual culling.

More about...Career, Economics

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Writer's Coin
Writer's Coin
11 years ago

I go through the same thing when I look at other salaries, it’s kind of depressing. I always think I should’ve gone into engineering or accounting–I was decent with numbers. But I decided to go with something that moves me besides money, and now I’m trying to catch up to the money. At least I’m happy.

Ben Dinsmore
Ben Dinsmore
11 years ago

I am very fortunate that I got into the profession that I am in when I did. I am a merchant mariner (merchant Marine) who got into working for an oil company early on when oil was only $10. I am trying to hedge my career right now with a second business as an alternative energy/green living guru.. I know what you are thinking, how can an oil guy be an alternative energy/green living guy at the same time? Isn’t that “against the rules”. Oh well, its been working out so far, when that one breakthough energy comes through and… Read more »

Ryan McLean
Ryan McLean
11 years ago

Being a freelance writer is a ressession-proof job because we live in the information age and people are always after information…whether we are in a recession on in a financial boom. The recession should only last a few years and won’t be as big as the depression so writing is a great job

ekrabs
ekrabs
11 years ago

I think part of the problem here is that I think each author/site has a different idea on what the would-be recession will look like.

I agree that the best way to get through a recession is to simply hang on to the job that you do have (assuming that you like it). Recession or not, you’re fine so long as you have income.

If one is actually considering career moves and want it to be recession-proof, I’d stay with industries that caters to basic necessities. Insurance and healthcare are two such examples.

Chris H
Chris H
11 years ago

Note the last part. If you’re working for a company that looks like it’s in trouble start tossing your resume out into the job wilderness again; otherwise just be really good at what you do, and they’ll have a really hard time getting rid of you.
If you can avoid it, don’t get pigeon-holed as the “go-to” in one area, even if you get really good at it. Its always best to be good but still flexible with what you do.

elisabeth
elisabeth
11 years ago

I have to laugh at the idea that college/university teaching is a recession hedge. There are thousands of people who spent many years (in history, for example, the average is around 10) training for jobs that didn’t exist. Sure, IF you get a tenure track job and then 6-7 years later earn tenure, you’re set for life. But institutions of higher learning are moving toward contract postions, more part time adjuncts (with no benefits) and other ways to reduce the cost of hiring faculty, and I wouldn’t include higher ed teaching on any list of good jobs to aim for.… Read more »

T
T
11 years ago

Marketing and sales.

All business depends on customers.

(That is, as long as we have a market economy. If we go the way of socialism, I would recommend civil service jobs.)

EscapeVelocity
EscapeVelocity
11 years ago

I also tried the academic route, which definitely doesn’t work for most people since overproduction is built into the system. I’m running scared now after all those years of not saving anything, but it was a lot of fun, and I got in a lot of travel I’ll never have time and money for again.

My job isn’t fulfilling, but it has a defined-benefit pension plan, so right now it’s looking pretty good.

f
f
11 years ago

If you enjoyed the family job, then I would guess that the reduced pay (compared to other professions you might have chosen instead) was worth it. If not…$42,000 a year? Man, I feel bad for you.

Someone
Someone
11 years ago

@elisabeth and @EscapeVelocity: Note that the “Education” bit didn’t specifically say “professorship”. There are lots of kinds of educational institutions, and many, many kinds of jobs within them.

Starving Artist
Starving Artist
11 years ago

I’m a technical writer and with this recession coming on, I feel like I have a pretty good skill set. My job pays well and isn’t tied to a particular industry.

Rainy
Rainy
11 years ago

I’ve made my living in retail and the clerical fields for the last 12 years, or at least, supplemented my family’s income that way. Now that I’m a single mum raising two teenagers, it is pretty obvious that this career path is fairly precarious. I’ve gone back to nursing school to get my RN, because one area I do believe will remain constant no matter what the economy does is healthcare. People will always need healthcare, and community based, nurse-oriented healthcare is, I think, the future. With more and more doctors going into specialties and not general care, nurses will… Read more »

Evelyn
Evelyn
11 years ago

J.D. in regards to your aside..Don’t be envious, think about how much more debt you would have had due to lifestyle inflation if you were a “technology executive”.

Thanks for another great article.

Peggy
Peggy
11 years ago

I can tell you one of the worst from personal experience: publishing.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Evelyn wrote: J.D. in regards to your aside..Don’t be envious

Good point about the lifestyle inflation, Evelyn. If I had gone with some more lucrative career path, I might have ended up even further in debt.

Also, perhaps my modest salary made it easier for me to be able to make the leap to blogging. If I had been earning $85,000 a year, would I have been as willing to take the risk? Absolutely not. And that would have been a shame — I would have missed out on living my dream.

Caleb Nelson
Caleb Nelson
11 years ago

I like the first list the best, because I’m an engineer in the mechanical construction field. Personally, I think that recession proof jobs, will lean more toward recession proof industries, which I believe are structured through the internet. Google and Yahoo will always big hitters. The technological era has yet to peak, so these giants have yet to see their best days. Despite the economy, the number of internet users is still rising. And I can tell you from personal experience, that construction and engineering business has slowed way down.

Caleb
http://www.mefinanciallyfree.blogspot.com

Cody
Cody
11 years ago

I think Schiff’s predictions about what jobs will be resistant to the coming economic collapse he so fervently warns us about are proof that his ideas have no basis in history or reality and are instead based on simple, irrational Chicken Little-ism. I know a lot of guys right now that would like to have words with Schiff about his ridiculous assertion that construction is a good industry to be in during a recession. Further, Schiff’s assertion that demand for health care will decline sharply could only be based on the assumption that the collapse will be so massive, people… Read more »

Tony Dobson
Tony Dobson
11 years ago

I enjoy working in IT but I’m not sure just how safe it is, for various reasons that I’m seeing first-hand. Let’s just say I’d keep an eye out for any services which can be out-sourced to a cheaper provider (whoever that is and wherever they might be based).

Tradesmen are in a pretty good spot. It’s pretty tough to get a joiner/plumber/etc. from another country when they need to be on-site to do the job.

nonskanse
nonskanse
11 years ago

Hmmm… almost all of the lists involve computer geeks. So I should be fairly safe. 😉

The last list includes them indirectly
1. Education – database admins
2. Energy – database, custom software, websites
3. Health care – biomedical computing, modeling
etc.

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl
11 years ago

My husband has a nice combination…he works in IT security for a healthcare company. The only major threat for him is outsourcing.

Aaron Kulbe
Aaron Kulbe
11 years ago

Good morning J.D. – I am thankful. Very thankful. The company I work for designs hardware and software that cable companies use. During the worst times, it seems like people don’t want to let go of their entertainment… so cable companies thrive. They use our software to monitor their infrastructure, and I support said software. We had a “town meeting” recently where we went over financials. The numbers were GREAT. Business is GOOD. Again – I’m *very* thankful. It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked, but I have a great boss, and they treat us very well. All of this to… Read more »

Julie B
Julie B
11 years ago

It wasn’t included on any of the lists, but my job is super recession-proof – the military. They don’t cut pay and it is really hard to get fired (you pretty much have to do something extremely stupid or illegal). If we start losing our jobs without good reason, then this country is having major, major problems!! Also, health care is guaranteed, and paid for 100%!!

Eric Hollins
Eric Hollins
11 years ago

As an engineer (industrial engineer) in semiconductor manufacturing, I am steering as many people as possible away from semicon mfg. It is a dying industry in North America because the labor is just too cheap overseas. I’m looking for another IE job right now and there are none in my area on the job tracking websites. My skillset is more aligned with being a business analyst or project manager so I’m looking into those fields more. On the other hand, I have plans to go back to school to become a physical therapist. It is something that I think I… Read more »

Esme
Esme
11 years ago

Healthcare? Not recession-proof? With the all the boomers reaching retirement age? I dont think Schiff is thinking straight. There will be a huge need for senior-focussed health care in the next 10-20 years.
One recession-proof field (which I’m glad my husband is in) is public transit. When people lose their jobs and cant afford the car payment.. they take the bus. Transit does really well in poorer times and also when the price of fuel skyrockets.

Cara
Cara
11 years ago

Engineering?! That is laughable. When budgets are tight, R&D investment often goes down and engineers are the first to get axed. Many engineering jobs are being shipped overseas to reduce costs.

Eric Hollins
Eric Hollins
11 years ago

I agree. Engineering is not recession proof and health care is getting bigger and bigger. To be more specific, I think health care is the way to go as long as you don’t have “Dr.” in front of your name.

Maren
Maren
11 years ago

I’m a freelance singer, and I’ll tell you right now, the only people in the entertainment industry who are not quaking in their boots are at the very top, and most of them live in Hollywood. The majority of entertainers in this country are dependent on discretionary spending (people are thinking maybe they don’t want to spend the extra $ on Christmas carolers at their party this year or they’ll use their iPod instead of a DJ or live band for the wedding), and even within the industry, orchestras might decide not to program as much music needing chorus or… Read more »

Desi
Desi
11 years ago

Woot! Engineering! Best job ever! Great pay and I can work anywhere I want. Next up is the Mazdar project in Dubai!

Susy
Susy
11 years ago

I think the best recession proof job is diversifying yourself and being great at your current job. Mr Chiot’s and I are self-employed. We have a small productions company, we have always kept it small for this reason, we are very nimble as a small company. We have developed many different income streams and if one dries up we can beef up the other ones.

Frugalicious
Frugalicious
11 years ago

Another Engineer here laughing at the idea an author listed it as “recession proof”. I have been laid off twice. The threat of outsourcing is always looming.

Cat
Cat
11 years ago

And the recession proof job that I think is notably missing is anything to do with funeral services – esp. companies that provide less expensive methods such as cremation.

jtimberman
jtimberman
11 years ago

From the second list, looks like I’m in good shape, top three:

“# Computer systems analyst
# Network systems and data communications analyst
# Network and computer systems administrator”

Of course, none of these positions are recession proof, at least as long as companies continue to gain tax breaks and save thousands by outsourcing / offshoring these positions. Fortunately for me I work for a company that has more loyalty to me than any I’ve worked for before – college friends :-).

RT
RT
11 years ago

@Tony Dobson: The problem with this logic (my other half is a commercial plumber) is that most tradesmen are doing new construction. That is where the money is, not unplugging toilets and doing remodels. And new construction is already stalling in our current economy. I live in an area where most tradesmen have spent the last ten-fifteen years building new houses (residential work). Guess what? They no longer have jobs. The job security in construction comes from work that is based on government bonds (airport expansions, hospitals, schools, etc.) because the money is usually planned out several years in advance.… Read more »

KC
KC
11 years ago

My husband is a physician (specialist) and although there is a certain recession proofness about it they certainly have seen a decline in patients they see. People are having a harder time paying for medical care – even those with insurance may not have the money for a co-pay. His practice now expects about 30% of their patients to cancel – they are almost double booking at this point. This effects not only the docs, but the nurses, front office staff, lab techs, etc. Fortunately they can double book because there are enough patients waiting to see a doctor –… Read more »

Dr. Perspective
Dr. Perspective
11 years ago

Overall I expect Healthcare to remain a growth industry. Regardless of what kind of healthcare model develops over the next decade or two there will continue to be a need for healthcare providers. This will include physicians, nurses, technicians, assistants (PA/NA), administrators, etc. Given the current rate of retirement there is a significant lack of qualified workers in all those areas and likely many more to satisfy the need for an ever growing and ever aging populace.

Phil
Phil
11 years ago

Peter Schiff made me worried when he listed healthcare on the decline. But everyone else mentioned Nursing or Healthcare as a steady profession, which is good, because my wife is an R.N.

Jonathan
Jonathan
11 years ago

Based on the 4 lists, here is the unofficially compiled data: The Big Ones Business (accounting, marketing, support, etc NOT SALES) (11) IT (8) Healthcare (8) Engineering (3) Energy (environmental, etc) (3-4) Education (2) (but all jobs need training!) The Rest 1. Construction, to rebuild the American infrastructure. 2. Agriculture, as we wean ourselves from imported foodstuffs. 3. Merchant marine, to transport goods to foreign markets. 4. Commercial fishing, because demand for fish is increasing in the U.S. even as foreign supply is declining. 5. Entertainment, another industry in which the U.S. should continue to dominate the world market. 6.… Read more »

Rachel
Rachel
11 years ago

“I wonder how much sooner I might have repaid my debt if I’d done something else for a career…like become a “technology executive”.” I wouldn’t beat yourself up about it JD – my husband has had pretty much that job for the last 10 years, in a fairly large market. And with all the companies he has worked for, or through his friends who do the same thing, or what he has ever seen anyone get paid – $115,000 is NOT EVEN REMOTELY CLOSE. I can say the same about my job as a video editor – any time I’ve… Read more »

Kris
Kris
11 years ago

In terms of job security, my husband and I feel fortunate to work in the industries we do: Pharmaceutical (one of his largest clients is Wal-Mart) and Insurance (people just don’t stop getting in accidents).

In terms of creativity and passion, we might choose otherwise.

Brandon @ Car Insurance Guidebook
Brandon @ Car Insurance Guidebook
11 years ago

This is a thought-provoking post. So many of us live our lives surrounded by four panels of an office cubicle. J.D. has shown the way out of the box – it’s now up to us to find our way out. He’s even provided some options for those who want to be paid in the process – and keep our jobs. I’ve been in 3 different industries in 4 years. Granted, one of those moves was probably a mistake, but the others were simply trying to find a A) Passion and B) Something That Would Pay the Bills. Someone once said… Read more »

Jane
Jane
11 years ago

Like Elisabeth, I also had to laugh at the thought of a postsecondary teacher being recession proof. Perhaps in the sciences, but not in the humanities or social sciences. I’m on of those soon to be history Ph.D.s that probably will not find any job in my field. Perhaps this has nothing to do with a recession and more to do with the growing adjunct system, but regardless, no one should encourage people to pursue teaching at a university for economic reasons! I’m also not sure about the dental hygienist. I find when I’m struggling financially, one of the first… Read more »

FranticWoman
FranticWoman
11 years ago

I’d like Schiff to backup why healthcare jobs are not safe. Regardless of the economy, health care needs to be there…just like police and fire fighters.

I read somewhere recently that if your job is closely tied to revenue than you have a smaller chance of being downsized. All staff are important, but with a revenue job you can actually chart how much you personally bring to the organization. I personally saved my employer 5 mil this year. I definitly *earned* my salary – and then some.

Dana
Dana
11 years ago

I would recommend just about anything in the healthcare industry *except* anything related to health insurance, including the insurance office in a physician’s practice. I don’t think we will go single-payer soon, but I think we’ll do something like it eventually, which will mean lots and lots of insurance-related jobs going down the tubes. But anything else is fair game, and we have serious shortages of doctors and nurses with a whole bunch of baby boomers about to retire. Retirement means Medicare, too, which means some degree of job security for medical providers. Pretty much any essential field that services… Read more »

Anne
Anne
11 years ago

The brilliant thing about being self-employed is that, obviously, I set my own prices. As the economy has turned, I’ve been able to keep business by occasionally reducing my rates when the situation called for it, all while also retaining my higher-paying clientele who haven’t been affected by the recession. I’m also able to easily integrate different product lines that sell better to a lower-budget group. Tapping into more than just one market has helped me to keep the cash flowing.

Dana
Dana
11 years ago

Oh, I wouldn’t go into commercial fishing either, as some have suggested. We’ve got too many fleets out there already and maybe you haven’t heard, but the ocean fisheries are collapsing. It’s unfortunate because fish really is a healthy food, but if we take it all, there will be no more. Reproduction can only keep up so much when we’re literally scooping the critters out of the sea. Something else–I like YMOYL’s take on just looking at a job as work for pay, and not getting too hung up on whether it is supposed to be your life’s purpose right… Read more »

Miss M
Miss M
11 years ago

I’m a civil engineer working on large transportation projects, there have been ups and downs. It’s dependent on government funding, which is dependent on the economy….That said it’s looking like I’m set for life. The voters just passed a 30 year sales tax increase to pay for transportation projects, there is already a shortage of engineers here so it should translate to better pay. My other half works in Hollywood building sets and it’s been a pretty dismal year, don’t know why entertainment is on the list. A lot of production is being outsourced now, they can film more cheaply… Read more »

E
E
11 years ago

I like the last list, since I am in accounting. From where I sit it looks pretty safe: My employer trades steel, which is always needed by someone, and in any case, all businesses and many individuals need someone to do their finances. I don’t make the salary range above but I work for a small private company and I don’t have my degree yet. 🙂

Andrew
Andrew
11 years ago

I have seen lists like these more often online as the country enters an economic downturn. So what should I do? Change my career into one of these recession proof jobs? I have briefly considered studying for a healthcare career and leaving the IT field I am currently employed in. However, the quoted annual salary figures look great, but what about lost earnings from my current job if I were to become a student full time and the need to pay back all those student loans for a position that may no longer be in great demand in 4 years… Read more »

Neil
Neil
11 years ago

The contradiction between the so-called experts is interesting. While there are some common elements I think the best advice is to continue to make yourself relevant and indespenseable in your work place.

Jay
Jay
11 years ago

The only truly ‘recession proof’ job I know is “Bankruptcy Trustee.” Those guys are making a killing right now. Of course they’ve had a few tough years in the recent past… But I have to say it says odd, and sad, things about us that “entertainment” is considered a recession proof job. I’ve been listening to many analysists say that some ‘luxury’ items (like fancy coffee) are going to be one of the last things that people give up. I have to say they were the first to go for me. Movies out, fancy coffee, non-business related eating out, non-business… Read more »

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