Warnings of an impending recession have reached a fever pitch. Inflation continues to soar, wreaking havoc on the stock market, and companies are beginning to prepare for the worst with layoffs, hiring freezes and, in some extreme cases, rescinding job offers.

The sudden change in labor market dynamics, after months of a strong job outlook and rising employee wages, has left many American workers scratching their heads.

“The job outlook is going to get a lot worse” in the coming months, Johns Hopkins University economics professor Laurence Ball tells CNBC Make It. “The question is, ‘How much worse?'”

If you’re thinking about changing roles soon, you should know that while no job is completely recession-proof, certain industries tend to fare worse than others during a recession.

During the Great Recession, which lasted from 2007 to 2009, the construction and manufacturing sectors saw significant drops in employment, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That’s because during an economic downturn, people tend to limit their discretionary spending and delay big purchases, including new cars and homes, says Karen Dynan, a Harvard University economics professor and former chief economist at the U.S. Treasury. She predicts that these industries will see similar patterns if a recession were to occur soon.

Ball and Dynan say the most “recession-proof” industries that offer strong job security during economic downturns include:

  • health care
  • government
  • computing and information technology
  • education

The common thread between these industries, explains Ball, is that they are less sensitive to changes in interest rates, and people depend on these services “whether the economy is booming or in recession.”

While schools have struggled to recruit and retain staff in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, education can be a stable sector in tough times, Ball says. He expects there will be greater demand for staff at colleges and universities across the United States if the recession hits, as more people may seek higher education “as a way to acquire new skills and improve their job prospects.”

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“People are more likely to go to college if the job market is bad,” he says. “And if you’re graduating college and the job market still looks bleak, graduate school becomes much more attractive.”

Whether you’re looking for a new job or not, Dynan emphasizes the importance of improving your professional skills so you can be a more competitive and valuable worker. See which skills appear most often in the job postings you’re interested in and start practicing them, or ask your boss if your company offers professional development courses or webinars.

“There’s not much you can do beyond your normal job responsibilities,” she says. “But learning what skills employers are looking for, and being able to perform well on those skills, is your best insurance.”


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