9 Recession-Proof Careers

Despite the economic downturn, these careers are still growing.

By Cathie Gandel and Hilary Sterne
Additional reporting by Neena Samuel and Kathryn M. Tyranski from Reader's Digest | March 2009

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These industries project promise—and jobs—for the future, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Occupational Information Network database.

1. Education
Math and science teachers will be in demand as the U.S. struggles to compete with other countries in engineering, technology, and medicine. A growing immigrant population means more English-as-a-second-language classes will be needed.

  • Postsecondary teachers – Median salary: $56,120 Education: bachelor’s degree and often a master’s or doctorate
  • Teacher assistants – Median salary: $21,580 Education: some post-secondary education or vocational training
  • Educational, vocational, and school counselors – Median salary: $49,450 Education: secondary education, associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s

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2. Energy
Some of the jobs in this field are the result of projects started a year or more ago. But the real boost will come from the new administration’s commitment to a more efficient national energy system. “Growth of energy consumption around the world will keep this sector strong,” says Laurence Shatkin, coauthor of 150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs.

  • Power plant operators – Median salary: $56,640 Education: vocational training and several years of on-the-job training
  • Insulation workers – Median salary: $31,280 Education: secondary education and vocational training
  • Electrical power-line installers and repairers – Median salary: $52,570 Education: vocational training and several years of on-the-job training

3. Environment
Green is getting the green light in a nationwide push to make homes and office buildings more energy-efficient and to develop alternative energy sources (solar, wind, nuclear) as well as fuel cell technology. “Anything involved with wind power, either the design or related products, will be big,” says Laurence Stybel.

  • Environmental scientists – Median salary: $58,380 Education: master’s
  • Environmental engineers – Median salary: $72,350 Education: bachelor’s
  • Hydrologists – Median salary: $68,140 Education: master’s

4. Financial Services
Rising from the ashes of a very bad year, financial services have a bright future. Corporate America’s wretched excesses mean more government regulation. Workers who are retiring will need advice on how to make their money last. Small businesses may outsource accounting services. As we get to the middle of the recession, there will be a wave of mergers and acquisitions, Stybel predicts. “People with experience in managing the process-corporate attorneys, investment bankers, and accountants-will be in demand.”

  • Financial advisers – Median salary: $67,660 Education: bachelor’s
  • Accountants and auditors – Median salary: $57,060 Education: bachelor’s
  • Sales agents (securities and commodities) – Median salary: $68,430Education: bachelor’s

5. Government
More than half a million federal employees will retire by 2016, leaving open positions at agencies from the CIA to AmeriCorps to NASA. There will also be opportunities at the state and local levels. “In addition to police work and homeland security, government inspects and regulates many industries,” says Shatkin. “Workers can sometimes capitalize on their experience in an industry by moving into a regulatory job.”

  • Government property inspectors – Median salary: $48,400 Education: vocational training, associate’s or bachelor’s
  • Immigration and customs inspectors – Median salary: $59,930 Education: bachelor’s
  • Urban and regional planners – Median salary: $57,970Education: master’s

6. Health Care
Health care pops up at the top of just about every list of hot careers. All of us are getting older and living longer, sometimes with chronic health conditions. What’s more, health insurance practices may undergo a radical revision during the Obama administration, which has announced plans to address three central issues: coverage, cost, and quality of care. “Health care is a growing industry,” says Bettina Seidman, “and not just for health care professionals. There will also be jobs for secretaries, accountants, and administrators.”

  • Registered nurses – Median salary: $60,010Education: associate’s or bachelor’s
  • Dental assistants – Median salary: $31,550Education: secondary education, plus a few months to one year of on-the-job training
  • Medical records and health information technicians – Median salary: $29,290 Education: associate’s

7. International Business
Corporations, consulting firms, nonprofits, and even governments are going after global markets. People with international expertise, foreign-language skills, or a willingness to move abroad will be in demand. “The global economy is only going to grow,” says John Challenger. “U.S. involvement will expand, short and long term.”

  • Interpreters and translators – Median salary: $37,490 Education: bachelor’s
  • International management analysts – Median salary: $71,150 Education: bachelor’s or master’s
  • Market research analysts – Median salary: $60,300 Education: bachelor’s or master’s

8. Law Enforcment
International terrorism makes daily headlines, and fear of financial insecurity is matched only by concern for our physical safety. “Crime doesn’t go down in a recession,” says Shatkin. “It may even increase.”

  • Probation officers – Median salary: $44,510 Education: bachelor’s
  • Court reporters – Median salary: $45,330 Education: postsecondary vocational training
  • Paralegals – Median salary: $44,990Education: associate’s degree in paralegal studies

9. Technology
New uses of technology in services and products like electronic health records mean that this sector will continue to be strong. “We have just begun to use the Internet as an entertainment medium in publishing, music, and film,” says Peter Weddle.

  • Computer systems analysts – Median salary: $73,090 Education: bachelor’s
  • Network systems and data communications analysts – Median salary: $64,600 Education: bachelor’s
  • Computer, ATM, and office machine repairers – Median salary: $37,100 Education: high school or vocational training

And We’ll Always Be Looking For…
“Think of basic human needs, the things we can’t do without,” says Shatkin. They provide what he calls “little islands” of employment in this economy. For example, he says, we will always need sewage and water treatment. Challenger says the food industry is a core area: “People have to eat, and the global population is increasing.”

In a down economy, people don’t buy new cars—they repair their old ones. People turn to their clergy for comfort. Funeral directors will always have jobs. And since pets are very much a part of the family, veterinarians and veterinary technicians will continue to be in demand.