How Job Seekers Can Choose Recession-Proof Careers

“If a recession hits, I’m taking a job as a garbage collector,” says Trenton Wiley. “People always need the trash picked up, even in a recession,” he reasons. Mr. Wiley lives in Baltimore and works for a rail freight company. He worries that freight volumes could shrink in a recession, putting his job at risk.

8.7 million jobs were swept away by the Great Recession of 2007-2009. 2.3 million were lost in the 2001 recession. And 1.6 million were destroyed in the recession of 1990-1991.* Many of the displaced workers found it difficult to find new jobs–let alone jobs that paid as much as their old ones. 

But throughout each period of labor market turbulence, some occupations weathered the storm. In fact, many added jobs–some even tens of thousands.

We analyzed data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES), which are collected each year in May by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and we were able to confirm that Mr. Wiley’s intuition was correct. The number of Americans employed as ‘refuse and recyclable material collectors’ was stable between May 2007 and May 2010, growing ever so slightly by 90 workers 0.07%.

Firefighters, family therapists, police officers and paramedics were recession-proof too. Wildfires, divorces, crime and accidents didn’t fall with the markets.    

Several occupations that we expected would be recession-proof were in fact quite vulnerable. The old idiom about nothing being as certain as death and taxes may be true, but funeral attendants and tax preparers suffered heavy job losses (of 9.9% and 7.9% respectively). 

Use our interactive tool to see which occupations truly were recession-proof during each of the last two recessions. 

Recession-Proof: Occupations that Added Jobs During the Last Two Recessions

* These figures are changes in total employment by occupation from May, 2007 to May, 2010, and from May, 2000 to May, 2002. They were calculated using data from the Occupational Employment Statistics, which are published annually by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Written by

Julia Pollak is Chief Economist at ZipRecruiter. She leads ZipRecruiter's economic research team, which provides insights and analysis on current labor market trends and the future of work.

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