So far, in the 21st century, there have been three recessions, defined as two or more consecutive quarters of negative gross domestic product (GDP) growth. First, there was an eight-month-long recession after the dot-com bubble burst in the year 2000. Then there was the 18-month-long Great Recession, which started in December 2007. And currently the U.S. is in the midst of a recession set off by the coronavirus pandemic.
With more than 30 million people collecting unemployment benefits throughout the country, those looking for work are likely seeking out jobs that could weather any future financial storms. But do recession-proof jobs actually exist?
"I don't think that there's truly such a thing as a recession-proof job," says Ernie Tedeschi, economist at financial advisory firm Evercore. That is, he explains, there is no job that "has no risk of ever being affected by a recession."
Here are three types of jobs that may be a safer bet for the long term, according to Tedeschi.
Government jobs, including jobs in the police department, fire department, and public education — both K-12 and public colleges and universities — are in a sector Tedeschi says "might be a little bit more resistant to up-and-down swings" that happen in privatized industries like retail and hospitality.
That's because government job salaries are reliant on taxes as opposed to consumer spending. With these jobs, "just because there's a fall-off in demand in the broader economy doesn't necessarily mean that all tax revenue stops," he says.
Jobs supported by unions can be safer bets because they're backed by "a long-standing relationship between the worker, who is being represented by a union … and the entire structure of the company," says Tedeschi. Unions negotiate not just benefits and wages on behalf of the worker but job security itself.
However, these jobs are "less and less prevalent in the United States," says Tedeschi. "Union representation is at an all-time low." In 2019, 10% of salary workers were members of a union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Sectors with union jobs include government, transportation, and construction.
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When considering career longevity, think about which industries we heavily rely on with "products or services that are growing in demand over time," says Tedeschi.
Jobs in tech, for example, would fall under this category, as so many of our daily needs are now heavily reliant on technology, from getting our food to getting from place to place. "Cybersecurity is an example of a job where the demand for that particular skill set is growing," says Tedeschi, "and it probably will continue to grow."
Higher education is another example of a type of job that may continue to be in demand for a long time because "more and more jobs require a college education," he says.
Finally, "the population is getting older, and it's only going to continue getting older," he says. "With that, the demand for health services [like caregiving] will only grow."
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Remember, says Tedeschi, that "there are caveats with all of those things. Cuts do happen," sometimes regardless of a recession. Take the dwindling U.S. auto industry, for example, which for decades offered good, long-term union jobs, many of which have been replaced by automation.
And downturns can play out differently. "There's no generic, one-size-fits-all type of recession," says Tedeschi. "Recessions have a lot of similarities, but they're usually caused by different causes. And those different causes can have implications for the types of jobs that end up getting impacted overall."
Make sure you also prioritize putting a financial safety net in place, like an emergency fund of at least three months that can help you get by in a crisis.
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