If you lost a job during the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, you're not alone. The global financial meltdown triggered the longest recession since World War II and created the most toxic business conditions since the Great Depression [source: Rampell]. Unemployment soared to 10 percent in January 2009 as companies closed doors or cut costs to ride out the rough times [source: BLS].
During recessions, job security becomes the number one priority as workers flock toward so-called recession-proof businesses. Recession-proof businesses are traditionally defined as industries that either thrive during rotten economic times or at least survive unscathed.
The global financial crisis of 2007-2009, however, rewrote the rules about recessions. Many economists are now saying that there's no longer such a thing as a recession-proof business. The best that employees can hope for is a recession-resistant business, meaning one with a better chance than most of riding out a recession [source: Chase].
The key to job security during a recession, experts say, is to find a company or industry that shows long-term growth potential, is immune from outsourcing and isn't tied to the fickle tastes of consumers [sources: Burt].
So what might those be? Here are some examples, in no particular order, starting with three items that are guaranteed to make you feel better.
Candy, Cosmetics and Contraceptives
If anyone likes a quick pick-me-up, it's the stressed out American worker. If you're lucky enough to keep your job during a recession, then you're probably bracing for the next round of layoffs. While heavy drinking at the office is frowned upon, nearly everyone can get behind a big bowl of jellybeans.
Candy consumption in the United States went through the roof during the Great Recession. The New York Times reported that Cadbury's profits were up 30 percent in 2008, and Nestle saw a 10.9 percent growth [source: Haughney]. Inexpensive, sweet treats provide a necessary break from all of the bad news. Indeed, during the Great Depression, treats like Snickers, Tootsie Pops and Mars Bars were all invented, and are still enjoyed today [source: Haughney].
Cosmetics and nail-care businesses also do well during recessions as women look for inexpensive ways to pamper themselves. In fact, some economists point to rising lipstick sales as a reliable indicator of a sagging economy [source: Schaefer].
The bedroom is also an excellent (and free, in most cases) treat during the recession. But budget-conscious couples make sure to avoid any unplanned expenses. During the first two months of 2009, contraceptive sales were up 10 percent [source: Gregory].
Recessions don't affect everybody equally. According to Newsweek, the total number of worldwide billionaires jumped 20 percent in 2008 [source: Theil]. Forbes counted a record number of billionaires in 2013 — 1,426 — while several parts of the economy were still recovering from the recession [source: Reuters]. Many of these über-rich live in Russia, the Middle East and Asia and have no problem splurging for a jumbo private jet or their very own sun-soaked island in the Mediterranean. The number of millionaires in India grew 22 percent over 2007-2008 and China witnessed a 15 percent bump in millionaires in 2011 [sources: Smith and New].
In the U.S., sales of ultra-luxury goods like $1,500 pairs of shoes or diamond-encrusted handbags slumped sharply in early 2009, but companies like Hermès and LVMH more than made up with Chinese sales [source: Masidlover and Passariellor]. As early as 2011, luxury retailers were some of the first to bounce back in the U.S., with brands like Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent boasting a 23 percent increase in sales while more modest retailers were starving for customers [sources: Clifford, Reeves]. One luxury car dealership in Manhattan specializing in Lamborghini, Bentley and Rolls-Royce models — each retailing in the low six figures — said 2011 was one of its best sales year ever [source: Gross].
Repossessions and Removals
Some industries act like financial scavengers during a recession, feasting on the rotten remains of the rest of the economy. For the repo man -- whose job is to repossess vehicles and other property when the owner fails to make payments -- bad news is big business. During the 2002 recession, car repossessions jumped 60 percent over 2001 [source: Valenti]. In 2008, during the worst of the Great Recession, a total of 1.67 million vehicles were repossessed, a 12 percent increase from the year before [source: BBB].
Junk removal is another service industry that profits from the misfortune of others. When a bank forecloses on a home, some indebted homeowners skip town and leave all of their possessions behind. For businesses like Miss Junk in Los Angeles, this means monthly revenues of $150,000 during the recession of 2007-2009, 10 times what it earned in its first month in 2007 [source: Ellis].
Bankruptcy lawyers also keep busy during a recession. More than a million individuals filed for bankruptcy in the United States in 2008, prompting 30 percent more bankruptcy lawyers to enter the profession [source: Gonzales]. Even with the economy in slow recovery, 1.2 million individuals filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012, which means there is still plenty of bankruptcy business to go around [source: U.S. Courts].
The Federal Government
A report by USA Today found that workers in many federal agencies are more likely to die than lose their job. The federal government job security rate was 99.43 percent in 2010, meaning only about half of 1 percent of the federal workforce was fired or laid off. In the private sector, an average of 3 percent of workers are fired for poor performance each year, and that doesn't include layoffs [source: Cauchon].
And despite the recession and spending cuts, the federal government is actively hiring new employees. In 2012, the government hired about 90,000 people, and there were still nearly 8,000 open job listings on USAjobs.gov, the federal government job board, as of October 2013 [source: Shin]. A major reason for the hiring boom is a rapidly aging federal workforce; more than 260,000 federal workers are older than 60 [source: Shin].
State and local government job security is an entirely different story. During the Great Recession consumers cut spending which affected state and local tax revenue. Faced with budget crises, many states enacted steep budget cuts. Even as the economy slowly recovered in the first half of 2010, state and local governments cut 95,000 jobs while the private sector added nearly 600,000 [source: Leonard]. By late 2013, however, local and state jobs appeared to be bouncing back, especially in the education sector [source: Shah].
Public school teachers in the United States -- who are essentially state employees -- have traditionally enjoyed solid job security. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a 17 percent growth in demand for kindergarten and elementary school teachers from 2010 to 2020, even in the face of state budget cuts to public education [source: BLS]. In the post-recession job market, there is still incredible demand for teachers, but aspiring educators need to go where the jobs are.
For example, in 2013 there was a huge shortage of certified math, science and special education teachers nationwide, but a surplus of general elementary school teachers [source: Beck]. College students considering a career in education will greatly improve their job prospects, starting salary and job security by focusing on these high-need subject areas. Also, teacher demand is higher in areas experiencing strong population growth like the West and South [source: Teaching Community].
Statistics show that college enrollment remained steady before, during and immediately after the Great Recession, making higher education one of the more recession-resistant businesses around [source: Hoover]. There was a sharp rise in community college admissions during the Great Recession as laid-off workers returned to school to upgrade their skills [source: Donaldson James]. However, college enrollment actually fell slightly in 2012-2013 for the first time in two decades, a combination of fewer college-age kids and more adults opting out of school to enter the improving job market [source: Pérez-Peña].
The traditional logic is that sin wins when the economy loses. Like candy, cigarette sales skyrocketed during the Great Depression, and tobacco stocks are still a smart buy in any recession [source: Gibbons].
But in contrast to popular wisdom, people tend to spend less on so-called sin industries like alcohol and cigarettes during recessions. The reason, some experts say, is not that people stop indulging during lousy times, but that they cut back some or downgrade the quality of their favorite vice.
For example, the National Restaurant Association reported that wine sales "by the glass" rose sharply as whole bottle sales slumped in 2008. And the Beer Institute said that beer sales in restaurants dropped in 2008, while wholesale beer sales from cheaper stores went up [source: Cohn].
Tattoo parlors, on the other hand, boom through both recession and recovery. According to a Harris poll, one in five Americans (21 percent) had a tattoo in 2012, up from 14 percent in 2008 [source: Harris Interactive]. People get tattoos during recessions because they are a relatively cheap way to express yourself creatively and boost self-confidence. On the flip side, tattoo removal services also boom during a recession as laid-off workers erase conspicuous ink to appear more professional in interviews [source: Berlin].
Wal-Mart has more than its fair share of critics. The superstore has spread across the world quickly, knocking off smaller competitors in its path. But no matter what you think of its business tactics, low prices trump politics during a recession. While nearly every other large American retailer suffered significant losses in the first months of 2009, Wal-Mart reported a 5.1 percent increase in profits, more than doubling Wall Street's expectations of 2.4 percent [source: Reeves].
Not surprisingly, dollar stores and thrift stores also thrive during recessions. The three biggest American discount chains — Dollar General, Family Dollar and Dollar Tree — became Wall Street darlings during the recession as they each added thousands of stores from 2008 to 2012 [source: Zimmerman]. Thrift stores and trendier "resale" shops also drew in new customers. According to the America's Research Group, 20 percent of people in 2012 said they shopped at thrift stores "regularly," up from 14 percent in 2008 [source: Tully].
Despite the bursting of the information technology (IT) bubble that played a key role in the recession of the early 2000s, information technology was the fastest-growing sector in the United States economy during and after the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 [source: Izzo]. That's because the information technology sector isn't confined to traditional tech companies like software makers and server manufacturers. Among the top growth businesses of 2011 were Voice Over IP providers, wind and solar power manufacturers, video game designers and Internet publishers [source: Izzo].
The biggest growth areas for IT jobs are in software design and development, networking and systems administration, software implementation analysis, testing and QA, and database administration [source: Schmeiser]. Systems analysts and administrators appear to have some of the greatest job prospects, since the nature of the work is more collaborative and more difficult to outsource overseas [source: Kiviat].
One of the reasons information technology continues to be an in-demand job sector is because there's an overall lack of qualified IT workers [source: Charette]. As older IT workers retire, there simply aren't enough younger workers to take their place. The percentage of U.S. college students graduating with a computer science degree has declined since 2005 to its lowest level since 1986 [source: Schmidt]. That trend has led some analysts to predict a 15 percent decrease in the supply of IT workers between 2008 and 2038, while the demand for experienced workers increases 25 percent [source: Luftman].
For years, health care has topped every list of recession-proof businesses. The logic is that people continue to get sick, even in bad economic times. But does that automatically translate into profits for the entire health care sector? Let's take a closer look.
From 2008 to 2012, a span that covers the Great Recession and early recovery, health care spending in the U.S. grew at a sluggish 4.2 percent annually. Compare that to the 8.8 percent annual growth experienced from 2001 to 2003 after the early 2000s recession [source: Nordqvist]. Analysts believe there is a direct connection between the stagnant overall economy and lower spending on medical services.
But the industry still managed to grow during a time when many other sectors saw revenues plummet. Total health care spending in the U.S. — by both individuals and government programs like Medicare and Medicaid — represented 16.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007 and increased to 17.6 percent in 2012 [sources: World Bank, PBS]. And this percentage is expected to grow under the Affordable Care Act.
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the health care and social assistance sector will add more than 5.7 million jobs from 2010 to 2020, far and away the largest projected job growth of any industry. The fastest-growing profession is registered nurses, but other areas of nursing are also strong. The BLS predicts a 70 percent growth in demand for both home health aides and personal health aides to serve an aging baby boomer population during 2010-2020 [source: BLS].
If you're looking for a truly recession-proof business, then there are a few old standards that might not be sexy, but they sure are reliable. These noncyclical businesses survive through good times and bad because they provide basic, necessary services.
Funeral services are a good example. Funeral homes see a steady stream of business no matter how the stock market is performing, although funeral directors in every state reported a significant rise in cremation requests — a far less expensive procedure than burial — during the Great Recession [source: Sack]. And since we're on the subject of death, we might as well mention the other of life's guarantees: taxes. As long as the IRS keeps things confusing, there will be plenty of work for accountants. One group that struggled during the Great Recession, however, were small, one-man accounting firms that mostly served small businesses. The big national chains were fine [source: Byrt].
Public utilities like electricity, gas and waste disposal are necessary for the clean and comfortable functioning of society. If a city government tried to save money by only collecting garbage once a month, it would cause a stink, to say the least.
Other industries that fall under the non-cyclical banner are religious organizations, the military, pharmaceuticals, veterinary services and repair technicians. So if you lose your job as a hedge fund manager, you might consider a career as a vacuum-repairing priest.
HowStuffWorks explains what Small Business Saturday is and whether it really helps small businesses.
More Great Links
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