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Best Jobs in a Bad Economy: Recession-Proof Careers

Written by Nickel - 27 Comments

While we haven’t officially in a recession, we’re still standing on pretty shaky economic ground. As such, I thought I’d post a recent list of the best careers to have in a recession from Money Magazine. In general terms, this list reflects the careers with the best combination of pay and expected growth rate over the next decade.

1. Financial adviser – 47% growth rate – $74,000 median income
2. Software program manager – 29% growth rate – $103,000 median income
3. Database administrator – 29% growth rate – $77,000 median income
4. Physical therapist – 27% growth rate – $67,000 median income
5. Physician’s assistant – 25% growth rate – $84,000 median income
6. Environmental specialist – 25% growth rate – $53,000 median income
7. Hydrologist – 24% growth rate – $59,600 median income
8. College professor – 23% growth rate – $79,000 median income
9. Certified public accountant – 18% growth rate – $64,000 median income
10. Teacher – 12% growth rate – $48,000 median income

Looking at the list, it’s largely comprised of white collar service-type postitions, presumably in response to a growing (and aging) population. Honestly, I was a bit surprised that there weren’t more medical professions on the list — what about doctors and/or registered nurses? I would think that those that specialize in non-elective procedures would fare quite well in an economic downturn. Yes, they’re getting squeezed by insurance companies, but people aren’t going to stop needing medical care.

Published on April 24th, 2008 - 27 Comments
Filed under: Economy, Working

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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27 Responses to “Best Jobs in a Bad Economy: Recession-Proof Careers”

  1. 1
    MITBeta Says:

    A physician’s assistant is very close to being a doctor. I saw one last year when I broke my thumb and she was excellent. She could order tests, write prescriptions, and schedule consultations with specialists when necessary. They don’t need as much schooling as a physician, and are therefore cheaper to see. I think that will explain a lot of the growth in that area…

  2. 2
    Frugal Dad Says:

    I grew up wanting to be a doctor, but quickly burned out at the thought of additional years of school. Looking back, I wish I had known about the Physician’s Assistant route. Most PA’s are great, and the real beauty is the majority of their time is spent with patients.

  3. 3
    KC Says:

    Nurses can get laid off. But the demand for them is so high that won’t happen in most places. Doctors are generally self-employed – at least in the city where I live. Unless you are a total meat-head and do something to get your liscence revoked then your job isn’t going anywhere.

    And becoming a doctor is so difficult and really is a test in endurance and mental preparedness than anything else. You have to love what you do and really want to help people to get through the grueling years of medical school and residency. Not to mention the incredible school debts many people accumulate. The money isn’t that great, either. The medical profession will lose a lot of bright people to careers in finance where they can make boatloads of money. Medicine will give you a comfortable living, but you won’t get wealthy.

    I think growth in the physician’s assistant area is due a lot to these store clinics you see popping up in Wal-mart and other retail outlets. There simply aren’t enough medical professionals around to service the need – particularily now that preventative medicine isn’t practiced by many due to lapsing helath insurance coverage. Really just about any field in medicine is going to continue to be in demand.

  4. 4
    Kyle Says:

    What’s a “software program manager?” Do they mean software developer? They’re paid pretty well, whatever they are.

  5. 5
    Sunderware Says:

    I presume that a software program manager is kind of like a project manager for software development projects… (which happens to be what I do).

    I think it is considered a “safe” position because while we can and do outsource software development, it’s not that reasonable to outsource the leadership on those projects. We need to have someone onshore to interface with clients, business partners, senior level management, etc.

  6. 6
    Dividend Growth Investor Says:

    I recently read an article that said that nurses are in such great demand, that they practically have job security till 2011/2014 when the demand would equal the supply..
    I am happy that accountants are still needed even in this shaky environment ;-)

  7. 7
    Funny about Money Says:

    Uhm… Where’s the 23% growth rate for college professors happening?

    The Great Desert University expects the legislature to pass a $5.4 million budget cut today. Meanwhile, my college alone is already $2.8 million in the hole, an all-time record.

    Across the Valley, GDU’s campus in a working-class neighborhood recently canned all part-time faculty and canceled all the courses they taught, courses — many of them required for various programs — that had already begun to fill. At the end of last semester, the same campus dismissed EVERY DEPARTMENTAL CHAIR in the oddly named school that is a de facto college of liberal arts and sciences. They canceled all these people’s courses and gave every one of them a five-month leave of absence, on the taxpayer dime. Next fall, they all come back to work as ordinary faculty, at pay cuts upwards of ten grand.

    This is not a field I would go into today. If I knew when I was a kid what I know now — not a chance!

    I’d get an MBA, and if I were still pigheadedly dreaming of a career in the sylvan groves of academe, I’d get a Ph.D. in business management: not all THAT much math, but better pay. Because universities and legislators believe people with advanced degrees in management can get better real-world jobs than people with advanced degrees in academic fields, faculty in business are paid very well, indeed. Much, much better than the rest of us.

    And when your university falls so deep in the hole it has to cut your program, an MBA will always get you a real-world job.

  8. 8
    RAY SHEAD Says:


  9. 9
    Erin Says:

    “I would think that those that specialize in non-elective procedures would fare quite well in an economic downturn. Yes, they’re getting squeezed by insurance companies, but people aren’t going to stop needing medical care.”

    I must take issue with the assumption that because people NEED medical care, there MUST be enough people to provide it. This is like saying you think family farms must be a recession-proof growth industry because people need to eat. Medical professionals (especially general practitioners) are being run out of business at an astonishing rate both by low insurance payments and skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums, and the fact that the need for medical care is rising in no way implies that we are actually producing and sustaining the necessary amount of health care professionals.

  10. 10
    kitty Says:

    I am surprised dentists aren’t on the list. I agree with KC about doctors in general – a lot of study, a lot of debt for virtually everyone whose parents aren’t rich, many years in residency before they see any income, higher than average risk of lawsuits, long hours. Dental schools, may be expensive, but they don’t have residency, so dentists get to earn money sooner and have a considerably smaller risk of lawsuits.

    Some doctors do have potential to make more money with less risk of being sued – e.g. dermatologists. If they do things like Botox, Restylane, laser hair removal, etc. they get paid in cash.

    What about lawyers? Shouldn’t they be on the list?

    Sunderware – in my company when they transfer a project to China/India, they may lay off the whole group including first line manager. But, we are a Fortune 500 technology company with divisions all over the world, so they don’t need to manage the project from the US. I do make over 100K without being a manager (although my band qualifies me to be one in other divisions, but not in research where I work as I don’t have a PhD), but my job isn’t secure. That of my manager is not either: if one person of the group is laid off, then the manager is safe. If the project is canceled, the manager isn’t safe. Since during past layoffs people were given one or two months time to find another position with the company, it is sometimes easier for a developer to find another position than for a manager, depending on manager’s actual skills in software R&D. I don’t know how it is in other companies, I’ve worked for this one forever.

  11. 11
    May Says:

    I absolutely agree that professions in the service department, especially in the health care industry, is always going to have a demand. I am an occupational therapist at a skilled nursing facility, and as the aging population grows, the demand for doctors and professionals in the health field directed towards the elderly will grow and grow. I do not notice the recession except that I notice it costs more to fill up my tank and that groceries are just a tad higher. I don’t carry credit card debt and just have about $5700 student loans left to pay. I do not feel threatened about losing my job, as I still get about 2-3 calls/emails a week trying to recruit me for other facilities and companies. This is the same for my colleagues at my job. Thanks for the post!

  12. 12
    Ed Says:

    I’m surprised that Pharmacist’s aren’t on there either. With the aging population and everyone taking 5 to 50 medications a month, a Walgreens/Wal-Mart on every corner, there is a shortage in my area.

  13. 13
    Mike Says:

    That’s interesting… I totally wouldn’t have guessed that “financial planner” would top the list, but it makes sense. Everybody is running around upset about the current financial situation and wondering what to do – hence, an increased demand for people who have the answers! It’s obvious now that somebody pointed it out…

  14. 14
    David Says:

    In response to an earlier question: a program manager, in software or any other industry, is responsible for implementing the organization’s strategic objectives. Unlike a project, which has a fixed duration and a defined product or service as its outcome, a program is long-term and ongoing. It is, essentially, the operations mode of a projectized organization. The program manager generally supervises project managers. In addition to coordinating projects, the program manager is responsible for process improvement. It is generally a fairly senior position in a mid-to-large size organization, and the quoted salary is by no means unreasonable for someone with that level of skill and experience.

  15. 15
    Ace Says:

    Although, those jobs you listed may be recession proof in the sense that they will always be needed. Jobs that are always hiring are also recession proofs. One that don’t require much time to get started are pretty recession proof. Lose one and then find another. In any job, you make the best of it.

  16. 16
    TaxCashCow Says:

    I work in the information technology sector. There is no position called Software Program Manager. Project Manager is the right position name. A software program manager is a program that run on an operating system (Windows, Lunix, Unix, AIX, etc.) and is not human.

    Author, get it right and check the salary, too. The salary is not that high in many states.

  17. 17
    David Says:

    Mr. Cow:
    There is indeed a position called Software Program Manager, whether or not you have encountered it in your particular pasture. A project manager coordinates particular projects. In a large organization, a program manager manages a program of multiple related projects. If that program is related to software development, Software Program Manager would be a perfectly spiffy title for that individual.
    However, I suspect that the growth position referred to in the article is indeed Project Manager. Software Program Management is a little too specialized to be at the top of such a list.

  18. 18
    TaxCashCow Says:

    Do a nationwide search on Monster.com using “Software Program Manager”. Every listing w/ this position name has behind it a description of Project Manager or Lead Manager. Only ignorant job posters in HR use this incorrect name then type in a description for Projext Manager. There are many many other positions who’s primary goals is to manage software programs – all the way from the secretary to the CEO. They are not all making over 100K/yr.

    Also, those who do IT salary surveys, never list a position called “Software Program Manager”. These people know the standard IT positions well. They always list several distinct IT Managers -Project Manager, IT Manager, IS Manager, IT Dept Manager.

  19. 19
    TaxCashCow Says:

    Sorry but you need to look at the thousands of job listings out the in IT. 99% of the job descriptions behind these listings call for the types of managers I listed. This is a fact. Sure some googy oddball HR person might make one up called SPM, but it would be very odd since IT salary survey companies NEVER list a SPM as a position. When they encounter a company who actually has a SPM, they boil down the IT responsibiliries and requiremenst into one of the positions I listed. Sorry but you are wrong.

  20. 20
    TaxCashCow Says:

    Just did a nationwide search on Monster.com using “Software Program Manager” against job titles only. Only 6 listed for the whole country. The job requirements and descriptions are all IT Management just like the survey sompanies list, none are specifically management of a “PROGRAM”. Using this title is like calling a mechanic a “wrench” manager.

  21. 21
    TaxCashCow Says:

    … and the pasture I attend is world wide, too!!

    Of the 6 monster.com nationwide listings using “SPM” as the job title, 2, the job requirements are “Project Lead” “Project Manager”.

    Imagine the embarassment of the 2 listers who dropped their pants to the world with this off-the-wall job title!! IT managers are laughing loudly at these goofups! The next words our of their mouths is going to be, “There ain’t no job title like that. They just want a manager. What were they thinking.”

    Trust me, these managers who’ve seaerch job sites are experienced and know better.

    The author doesn’t know how few SPM’s there actually are inside the US. … Well, except for my gold nuggets posted here.


  22. 22
    Asiimire Says:

    I am Proffessional Economist. A uGANDAN aged 35 yrs.
    Abachelors degree in Economics( Econ 3.1.1). MA ECONOMIC POLICY and PLANNING(MA EPP) from MAKERERE UNIVERSITY and DIPLOMA IN VALUE FOR MONEY AUDITING from PRICEWATER HOUSE. Currently am working as a STORES ADMINISTRATOR. I love my
    profession though i have never practised it. Can i fit anywhere? Is there a good Organisation that can pick me up? Am a female. I love to practise my proffession.
    Why didn’t you include Economists on your list?
    What advise do you give me? My dream is to be an Economist ie by practising it.

  23. 23
    Rena Says:

    There is a position called “Program Manager” and recently they have just invented a new title for “Software Program Managers”. This is exactly the same position as Program Manager except the concentration is in the Software development vs. Infrastructure. BTW if you are in IT you should know what Program Manager Position is and this title have been around as long as Project Manager Title. The two positions are very different. One is more business and strategies oriented and the other is project oriented. Normally if you are a Project Manager and you want to move up Program Manager would be your next step.

  24. 24
    erin Says:

    I think that k-12 teachers should be taken off this list. I am a teacher and finding a job is near impossible with school closing and budget cuts.

  25. 25
    J Says:

    So should College Professor be taken off the list. In many fields, there is a far less than 1% chance of even getting an interview.

  26. 26
    Person Says:

    College professor? That has to be a joke.

  27. 27
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    have money to using daily needs to take care of the standards on
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    of trust.

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