What is a Recession?
If you pay attention to national news, you’ve probably heard the term “recession” being mentioned a lot over the last year or so. While most people have heard the word, few truly understand what it means or how it affects their lives.
From an economist’s standpoint, a recession is a period when economic activity drops. It’s usually measured by specific indicators like unemployment rates that go up, consumer spending going down, and businesses seeing a big drop in orders. While that academic definition is interesting, what’s most important to those considering their educational options is that a recession can have a direct effect on you, both now and in the future.
When there’s a significant financial slump in the economy, it means most people have less money to spend. It also means that businesses affected by decreased consumer spending may cut back on hiring, and are less likely to have openings.
If your educational goals are geared towards quickly getting into a career that’s in demand and that offers lots of opportunity, you need to take a strategic approach and avoid industries and work settings whose profits are down because they’re seeing less activity.
Below you’ll find our list of the 10 worst jobs for a recession, along with some advice for minor adjustments you can make in your plans that may make a big difference in your future.
10 Worst Jobs for a Recession
1. Retail and Luxury Goods Salesperson
Whether working in a high-end boutique or for a more accessible retailer like a big box electronics store or clothing store, salespeople share universal responsibilities and skills. It is their job to make a customer feel comfortable, to assist them in making their purchase decisions, and to help them complete their transaction.
The more accommodating a salesperson is and the more they can provide the customer with positive feedback, product information, and reasons to purchase a product, the more successful they are likely to be. Though some sales positions pay hourly wages, others offer commissions and bonuses for sales volume. Incomes can vary widely based on location, items being sold, and the individual salesperson’s experience and skill.
Unfortunately, retail sales – and especially the sale of luxury goods – are one of the early warning signs of a recession, and so a job that relies on people being willing to spend their money on items they can no longer afford – or that aren’t high priorities – are more likely to see cutbacks, reduced salaries, and diminished sales activity.
- Job: Retail Salesperson
- Median annual pay: Entry level - $15-$20 per hour
- Educational Requirement: Minimum, high school degree
- Job: Retail Sales Supervisor or Manager
- Median annual pay: $30,000-$60,000
- Educational Requirement: Bachelor's Degree in Marketing, Merchandising, or Retail Management, though some positions may only require a high school degree and sales experience.
- Job: Luxury Good Salesperson
- Median annual pay: $50,000-$100,000 depending on experience and goods sold
- Educational Requirement: Bachelor's Degree in Marketing, Communications, Merchandising, or Retail Management.
What to study instead
Most individuals whose educational backgrounds and personalities make them good salespeople can adjust their career goals or the products they are selling to make their position less vulnerable to economic changes. Rather than switching educational goals, try to identify non-discretionary products that you can apply your skills to selling. These include pharmaceuticals, medical devices, or insurance. It is also possible to use your marketing talents and communication skills to switch to a customer service or product training position.
2. Travel Agent
Travel agents offer their clients assistance in planning and booking travel. This service may be offered to businesses for their employees’ travel arrangements, as well as for individual or group travel. Travel agents offer guidance based on the travelers’ goals, budget, and desired destinations. They conduct research, book flights, accommodations, tours, and transportation on behalf of their clients, provide guidance on required travel documents, and troubleshoot when problems arise.
While some travel is a necessity, most of the travel that is arranged through a travel agent tends to be discretionary. Even businesses are likely to cut back on employee travel when money is tight, and leisure-travel clients either stop traveling entirely or will cut back significantly on their spending levels, thus impacting the commissions that a travel agent will make.
Many people who continue traveling will take on the job of booking their trip arrangements for themselves to save money, and travelers who find themselves suffering financial woes due to a recession may simply cancel plans, thus leaving travel agents without bookings that they had planned on for their income.
- Job: Travel agent
- Median Annual Pay: $40,660, though income depends upon client demographic and commissions earned from travel companies
- Educational requirement: Though becoming a travel agent requires no specific degree, earning a Bachelor's Degree in Travel and Tourism Management, Hospitality Management, or Business can be very helpful.
What to study instead
While travel agents may see a drop in the demand for their services, a degree in travel or hospitality can still provide job security. Some industries require the same type of research, customer service, and booking experience, including corporate or government travel positions. Your industry knowledge can also be applied in travel insurance settings or crisis management services for hospitals or other travel organizations.
3. Event Planning
Event planners are responsible for putting together meetings, celebrations, conferences, and other gatherings that require significant coordination and planning. They generally begin their process by meeting with their client or point of contact to get a sense of the scope of the project, the vision, and the budget, then design and coordinate the event. Their responsibilities include the creation of a theme, decorations, vendor selection and booking, logistics, execution, and troubleshooting.
Though a career as an event planner is ideal for a creative, organized individual who loves entertainment and hospitality, it is also often reliant on discretionary spending, and that can be a problem in the face of shrinking budgets. Not only can events be downsized, postponed, or canceled, but the trickle-down impact of a recession on suppliers and vendors can make finding reliable vendors or suppliers a challenge.
- Job: Event Planner
- Median Annual Pay: $50,910
- Educational Requirement: No specific degree is required, but having a Bachelor's Degree in Event or Hospitality Management, Business Administration, or Marketing and Public Relations can be very helpful.
What to study instead
Event planners need to be good communicators who are organized and adept at problem-solving. These skills, combined with a degree in hospitality management, business administration, or marketing and public relations can be applied to more recession-proof positions that do not depend upon discretionary spending. These include meeting or convention planners who work with corporations or venues rather than as entrepreneurs; corporate communications or public relations specialists; or fundraising or development specialists.
4. Real Estate Agent
Real estate agents represent buyers and sellers of homes and commercial properties. They help people who want to sell real estate to identify appropriate pricing, prepare, and list a property for optimal exposure and sale. Agents who work with buyers help them find properties that fit their budget and needs. Once a buyer finds a property that they’re interested in, agents will negotiate pricing, inspections, and modifications to achieve a mutually agreeable sale price and arrangement.
Real estate agents need extensive, comprehensive market knowledge. They need to be organized and have excellent marketing and communication skills. They also need familiarity with the legalities involved in selling and buying real estate.
While the last several years have seen a real estate boom, a recession can severely depress housing sales. Agents are left with fewer listings, fewer buyers (especially with high mortgage interest rates), and lower offers resulting in decreased commissions.
- Job: Real Estate Agent
- Median Annual Pay: $40,000-$60,000
- Educational Requirement: No specific degree is required to sell real estate, but most states require minimum credentialing and licensing training, membership in a real estate association, and continuing education. Agents who have the benefit of marketing, communication, business, and finance degrees will excel.
What to study instead
Economic recessions can be devastating for real estate agents, but a nimble approach can leverage the education, experience, and training they’ve already gained. Alternative career paths that leverage the same knowledge and skills include property management, real estate appraisal, real estate investing, and mortgage lending. Those who are creatively inclined may opt for staging properties for other agents.
Construction careers encompass a wide range of jobs, from physical labor to engineering. Regardless of whether you’re interested in excavation, building roads or skyscrapers, or creating modern homes and multi-family structures, you need extensive training and experience.
While stimulus packages and incentives can be a major driver of the economy, the industry can be severely impacted by a downturn. With no money for investment, new projects could be stalled, downgraded, or canceled entirely. Homebuyers opt for less expensive pre-existing homes, owners start fewer renovation projects, and even public projects can be defunded. With less demand, construction companies are more likely to lay off workers or enact hiring freezes.
There are many different construction-based careers, including:
- Job: Carpenter
- Median Annual Pay: $48,330
- Educational Requirement: Associate degree
- Job: Electricians
- Median Annual Pay: $56,900
- Educational Requirement: High school degree and completion of an apprenticeship program or electrical trade school program
- Job: Construction Laborer
- Median Annual Pay: $37,080
- Educational Requirement: High school degree or equivalent
What to study instead
Even when construction projects have stalled, construction workers' skills can be applied to other areas. Skilled tradesmen are always in demand, whether they decide to go off on their own in an entrepreneurial effort or to work for companies that deploy them to service clients. Their training and experience can also qualify them for jobs as home inspectors, facilities maintenance and management, and safety and compliance.
6. Financial Advisor
Financial advisors are sometimes known as wealth managers. They provide financial strategies and investment advice specific to the needs and resources of their clients. Their process generally includes analyzing their clients’ financial situation and goals, and then developing plans to help them accomplish those goals. The plans generally include savings, investments, and tax optimization strategies but can also extend to long-term care, trusts, retirement and estate planning, and debt management.
Working in a career that revolves around money can be extremely frightening during an economic downturn. With clients unwilling to take risks and incomes down, advisors may find themselves facing a diminished demand for their services. This misfortune can be exacerbated by the market volatility that often follows a recession.
- Job: Financial Advisor
- Median Annual Pay: $67,000 to $80,000
- Educational Requirement: Financial advisors generally have earned a Bachelor's Degree in Finance or Business. Most also pursue additional certifications and licenses and complete continuing education classes to keep their skills sharp.
What to study instead
Reduced demand for their services combined with market instability can significantly impact earnings and demand for financial advisors. Fortunately, the skills and knowledge that you previously applied to client strategies can be diverted into other directions, including risk management and insurance, compliance and regulatory roles, corporate finance, and consulting.
7. Hospitality jobs
Hospitality management is a unique industry dedicated to providing service and assistance to travelers and guests. Whether working in a hotel or resort, in a restaurant or bar in a tourist location, operating guided tours, or working on a cruise ship, your job includes a mix of customer service, communications, public relations, marketing, and education.
Unfortunately, tourist destinations, particularly in far-flung locations or in venues that command high rates and prices, suffer significant losses when the economy is going through a recession. With less disposable income, people tend to stay closer to home. They stop going out to eat as much and choose to visit family or take ‘staycations’ rather than taking more luxurious or exotic trips. People with careers in the hospitality industry are often among the first to be laid off or see cutbacks in hours as the organizations that they work for struggle to remain profitable.
- Job: Hotel Manager or Concierge
- Median Annual Pay: $61,910
- Educational Requirement: Though no specific degree is required, many who choose careers in hospitality complete Bachelor’s Degrees in Hospitality Management.
- Job: Restaurant Manager
- Median Annual Pay: $56,908
- Educational Requirement: There is no specific degree is required. Many restaurant managers are waitstaff who work their way up the ladder, while others graduate with Bachelor's Degrees in Hospitality Management, Public Relations, or other liberal arts degrees.
- Job: Cruise Ship Director
- Median Annual Pay: $63,397
- Educational Requirement: Most cruise ship directors have earned a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management.
What to study instead
Though people who seek careers in the hospitality industry are driven by a love for the industry, the harsh realities of a recession’s impact on their field often force them to apply their skills and experience in other areas. Most are well qualified for positions in recession-proof positions including customer service, sales and marketing, healthcare, senior living, and administrative and office support.
8. Human Resources
Human resources professionals are responsible for recruiting, hiring, and firing employees for an organization. They also coordinate benefits, plan training sessions, evaluate employee performance, and address workplace safety issues.
Though it may seem ironic, these employees who are most responsible for adding employees to an organization are also among the first affected by a recession. With limited resources to hire new talent, the services and expertise of these professionals may not be needed, and management may ask HR professionals to take on their colleague's roles to accommodate downsizing efforts.
- Job: Human Resources Representative
- Median Annual Pay: $47,000 to $62,000
- Educational Requirement: Most human resources professionals have earned a minimum of a bachelor's degree, though their area of study can vary. While some may choose a business-related field, others pursue psychology or sociology. What is most important is a well-rounded education that provides good training in communication and a strong understanding of organizational behavior.
What to study instead
Human resources professionals possess skills that make them valuable in a wide array of settings. Human resources staffers can easily transition to career counseling and coaching jobs, training and development positions, or employment benefit specialist positions. Their talents can also be applied to positions in support of attorneys or legal compliance, workforce planning and analytics, or government.
Accountants are responsible for financial recordkeeping and management for their clients. Whether they work for individuals or for businesses, they analyze finances, establish budgets, and prepare tax forms and financial documents necessary for applying for loans.
While being an accountant may seem like an extremely safe and stable position, their services are in far less demand during an economic downturn. There are a few reasons for this:
- Many people will choose to prepare and file their own taxes rather than pay another person to do this task for them, especially with the increasing availability of easy-to-use do-it-yourself accounting packages.
- Even businesses will downsize their accounting services, whether as a result of having gone out of business themselves or as a cost-cutting measure.
- Job: Accountant
- Median Annual Pay: $50,000 to $90,000
- Educational Requirement: Most accountants begin with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting or Business, then move on to become certified as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or earn their MBA
What to study instead
Though the demand for accounting services may fall during a recession, there is still a real need for the skills and knowledge that accountants possess as a result of their experience and education. Accountants can easily shift to positions as financial analysts or forensic accountants, internal auditors, credit analysts, or in banking and financial services.
10. Airline employees
Pilots and flight attendants are integral to our comfort and safety when we fly. While captains and first officers operate aircraft, review flight plans, monitor weather patterns, and communicate with air traffic control, flight attendants are responsible for passenger safety and wellbeing, ensuring that all passengers are aware of appropriate precautions, that the cabin is prepared for flight, and to manage security- and health-related issues.
When the economy is in a downturn, people minimize their travel plans, and air travel is the mode of transportation that is most frequently cut when discretionary income disappears. Airlines subject pilots and flight attendants to layoffs and furloughs as well as salary cuts, and as travel routes are cut, so are shifts.
- Job: Airline pilot
- Median Annual Pay: $110,000 to $200,000
- Educational Requirement: Though becoming an airline pilot does not require a college degree, it does require significant training beyond a high school diploma, including medical certification, holding a private pilot’s license, 1,500 hours of flight training, and passing multiple exams.
- Job: Flight Attendant
- Median Annual Pay: $45,000 to $65,000
- Educational Requirement: Becoming a flight attendant does not require a specific degree. Successful flight attendants have earned a high school degree, have strong people and customer service skills, have met physical and language requirements, and have attended and passed a comprehensive training program.
What to study instead
Flight attendants and pilots possess unique people skills. They have a well-earned reputation for responsibility and steadiness that is in high demand across multiple industries. Those who wish to remain in the aviation industry can look for jobs with freight airlines or corporate flight services, flight instruction, or air safety control. Others may choose to shift to customer service positions, emergency services, or government jobs.
How To Make Yourself Recession-Proof
A recession is hard on everybody. Prices rise and uncertainty is pervasive, but some positions have traditionally been resilient, even through the worst economic downturns. The jobs that are the most recession-proof are those that fulfill needs that are not impacted by the availability of disposal income. These include jobs in: