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by Kaitlin McManus | December 03, 2019


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We all remember The Great Recession of 2007. I was in high school when it happened, but I still remember the constant state of anxiety we all lived in. So I know I’m not the only one who felt the icy grip of fear when earlier this year, economic experts said that another recession may be just around the corner. Job security is so important, particularly when you’re just starting out (it’s the people at the bottom of the totem pole that are often laid off first), so I’m sure you’ve been wondering what you can do to safeguard your future.

The unfortunate response is that there are no easy answers. Recessions mean tough times for everyone. And besides that, it’s impossible to know if we really are headed for recession. The economy is a fickle thing that defies accurate prediction. All we can see for now are warning signs. So the best piece of advice that I can give at this moment is to be prepared but not afraid. And one way to prepare is to look at what are called “recession-proof” industries, particularly as potential career options.

Full disclosure: No industry is entirely recession proof. There are no guarantees when it comes to the economy. (Remember when we thought real estate fool proof?) However, these are industries that have either weathered well or prospered in past recessions. They’re good to keep in mind if you need options to consider regarding your career.

Consumer Goods

Let me pose a quick hypothetical: If money was tight, would you quit brushing your teeth to save on toothpaste? Would you stop buying toilet paper, or soap, or diapers? No, you wouldn’t—that would be insane. You may start buying cheaper versions of these items, but you can’t stop buying them altogether. These are called “consumer staples” or “necessity goods” in the world of economics, and they’re generally regarded as very stable industries. People need to be clean and hygienic regardless of their income, so companies that make these goods tend to fare very well during recessions.

Health Care—Especially Senior Care

Your mom probably wanted you to be a doctor, but I’d take a guess that it wasn’t because medicine is essentially recession proof. If you caught the sniffles, you may be a bit less likely to pop into the doc-in-the-box for a Z-Pac when your income is stymied. However, people are still going to get hurt or sick—tough to turn down a ride to the hospital if you’ve broken your leg—which means we all still need our doctors, nurses, physical therapists, etc. And with the aging boomer population, the demand for senior care is only increasing. Health care is a necessity and, therefore, not the type of thing most people skimp on, even when they don’t have expendable cash.

“Sin” Industries

I know I’m not the only person out there who indulges in a little emotional eating. How do I know that? The candy business has historically thrived during economic downturns. So have the cigarette and alcohol businesses. It’s not a pretty fact, but people do have vices, and we tend to lean on them during tough times. That’s nature. These businesses do tend to change during recession, however—for example, alcohol sales move from hard alcohol towards beer and budget wine options. That said, other “sin” industries don’t perform so well—casinos, for example, tank during recessions. When money is tight, people are less willing to potentially lose it. But when it comes to relatively inexpensive indulgences—candy, beer, cigarettes, and (weirdly) lipstick—we as consumers tend to let our hair down a bit, and these businesses grow.

Death Services

Time waits for no man, regardless of the economy. People die at a relatively steady rate within their geographic areas—it’s called the “crude rate of death.” As such, despite what the economy looks like, there will always be a need for funeral homes, crematoriums, coffins, headstones, etc. This is another example of what are called “noncyclical” businesses (similar to the consumer goods industry), which don’t depend on the economic state as much as other industries and, therefore, are very stable. Death services is a booming, multibillion-dollar industry in this country, so it’s certainly a field that’s worth checking out, so long as a bit of morbidity doesn’t get you down.

Federal Government

In 2011 (right as we were starting to bounce back from The Great Recession), USA Today reported that the retention rate for employees of the federal government was 99.43 percent. That’s a crazy level of job security. Now, I can’t speak to whether the government would continue to have the same retention numbers if there’s another economic downturn. But it does seem that, in the past, they’ve done their best to keep their employees. So a government job may not be a bad option if you’re looking for stability in the coming years.

The Stark’s house words were “Winter is Coming”—and they always ended up being right. You can say the same for recession. The economy is a perpetual cycle, and while we can never be sure of when a downturn will come, it will happen. That said, there’s plenty that we can do to prepare ourselves for it. Taking the temperature of the industries we rely on is one way to prepare. So if a possible recession has got you worrying, take a breath and try to find growth opportunities where you can rather than getting caught flat-footed.