Top Jobs That Are Impacted in a Recession

Jobs in essential industries like healthcare are more likely to be recession-proof. On the other hand, travel and hospitality gigs are at higher risk of getting cut in down times.

Written by Casey Bond / July 1, 2022

Quick Bites

  • Job losses tend to increase during recessions, when the economy slows down.
  • Some industries–those in demand no matter what–are better positioned to weather bad times.
  • Hotels, restaurants and really any business that’s not a basic necessity are likely going to see cuts in staff in a recession.

The term “recession” is a big, scary word. It conjures images of “going out of business” signs in shop windows and long lines at the employment office.

And rightly so. Recessions often have devastating effects on the job market. During the Great recession of 2007-2009, one in five workers lost their jobs. The recent recession following the coronavirus outbreak resulted in an unemployment rate of 14.7% in April 2020.[2,3]

While no job is 100% safe, there are some industries and positions that are less likely than others to get hit hard when the economy sours. Below, we take a closer look at the best and worst jobs to have during a recession.

Inside this article

  1. What's a recession?
  2. Worst jobs in a recession
  3. Best jobs in a recession
  4. FAQ

What's a recession?

Most economists agree that a recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth.[1,3] That’s generally measured by gross domestic product (GDP), which represents the total value of goods and services produced by a country.

Officially, we rely on the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) to make the call on when a recession begins and ends.

Recessions are a part of the regular business cycle, ie, they are completely normal and part of life. Though it’s tough to predict exactly when one will happen, we know that there will always be a recession on the horizon, especially after a long period of economic expansion.[4]

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Worst jobs in a recession

If your job or industry doesn’t provide or serve a basic necessity, you’re probably at higher risk of getting laid off.

When the economy starts to turn, we tend to hold back on our frivolous spending: No more fancy meals and far-flung vacations. We trade in brand names for generics, and hold off on upgrading phones and cars.

That means, you’ll want to avoid working in the following industries during a recession:

  • Hospitality: hotel manager, concierge, event planner, chef, server, bellhop

  • Tourism: tour guide, travel agent, commercial pilot, flight attendant, air traffic controller, docent

  • Leisure: camp counselor, park ranger, athletic director, coach

These are often the first to see layoffs or reduced hours in a recession.

“Of course, all jobs are necessary, both to the people who create them and the people who fill them,” says Rita Trehan, founder of Dare Worldwide, a human resources consultancy. “But during a recession, many people don’t see it that way.”

Best jobs in a recession

What can we not live without? That’s where you want to be when the economy turns sour. Think: groceries, schools, hospitals. After all, we’ll always need to eat and medical care is essential.

Other safe jobs may be found in the public sector, Trehan says, including in civil service and teaching.

“This doesn’t make them immune to unemployment or slashed wages, but they aren’t subject to the same market forces, so they’re more cushioned,” Trehan says.

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In the private sector, jobs in accounting, budget analysis and insurance are also fairly solid.

“And everyone knows the joke about plumbers being in eternal demand,” Trehan says. “Some jobs are always needed.”

In fact, many of these jobs are needed even more when a recession forces people to prioritize the essentials (i.e., paying the car insurance and fixing the toilet).

FAQ

Are government jobs recession-proof?

While no job is 100% recession-proof, studies do find that job loss is less likely in the public sector vs. the private sector across all levels of government.[5] It’s important to note, though, that job loss does occur at a higher rate during recessions for both sectors of employment.

What kind of jobs have been lost in recessions?

Recessions can happen for different reasons. And those reasons often dictate which jobs are most impacted. Following the most recent recession in 2020 and its aftermath, ie, everyone stayed home, the country lost the most workers in the leisure and hospitality, and education and health services industries.[6] About 8.2 million jobs were lost between March 2020 and April 2020 alone.

How does a recession affect me?

A recession can have many negative repercussions. Homeowners may see their properties lose value, and investors may lose money in the market. One of the biggest ways a recession affects people, however, is in their jobs. When the economy is shrinking and businesses are losing money, it’s common for them to cut hours or get rid of jobs entirely. During a recession, you may have difficulty getting a raise, securing a new job or keeping the one you have.

Article Sources
  1. Knowledge at Wharton. “How the Great Recession Changed American Workers.” September 10, 2018. https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/great-recession-american-dream/.
  2. “Unemployment rate rises to record high 14.7 percent in April 2020.” BLS. May, 13, 2020. https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2020/unemployment-rate-rises-to-record-high-14-point-7-percent-in-april-2020.htm
  3. Bureau of Economic Analysis. “Recession.” https://www.bea.gov/help/glossary/recession.
  4. “Business Cycle Dating.” NBER. https://www.nber.org/research/business-cycle-dating.
  5. Griswold Center for Economic Policy Studies, “Are Public Sector Jobs Recession-Proof? Were They Ever?” October 2014. https://gceps.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/240rosen.pdf.
  6. Economic Policy Institute. “Low-wage, low-hours workers were hit hardest in the COVID-19 recession.” May 20, 2021. https://www.epi.org/publication/swa-2020-employment-report/.
  7. “Coronavirus: What is a recession and how could it affect me?” November 12, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-52986863.

About the Author

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Casey Bond

Casey Bond is an award-winning writer who has been covering personal finance for more than a decade. Her work has also appeared on Yahoo!, Money.com, Fortune, MSN, Business Insider, The Motley Fool, U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, TheStreet, and more. She is a Certified Personal Finance Counselor.

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