Recession-Proof Careers

Six fields that offer job security and fat paychecks, too.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is from Kiplinger's Success With Your Money special issue. Order your copy today.

What do young adults want most in a job? Surprise! It's not money. Instead, they crave good old-fashioned job security.

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College students rank job security as their number-two priority for their careers, behind opportunity for advancement, according to a survey by the National Association of College Employers. Believe it or not, high salary placed a lowly seventh.

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Yet job security would seem to be a relic of the past in today's ever-changing workplace, in which we're all expected to be entrepreneurs to stay competitive and sell ourselves to employers. And the job market can be particularly challenging in an uncertain economy. Where can you turn for stability in unstable times?

No job is 100% secure, says Randall Hansen, of However, says Hansen, you can improve the odds of holding on to your job. "Workers in certain industries can take comfort in knowing that, even if they're fired, there is so much demand for their skills that they should be able to find another job very quickly."

The key, then, is to seek out careers with stable hiring prospects in both good times and bad. That means you should focus your job search on industries that have the potential for solid long-term growth, are resistant to outsourcing and don't depend much on consumer whims and economic winds.

Kiplinger's consulted career experts and combed through data on job trends to come up with six fields that should provide a measure of safety for workers no matter what happens in the economy. We include suggestions for specific jobs, along with the median salary for each position -- let's face it, money does matter. Salary figures come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Go to for earnings information, job descriptions, educational requirements and outlook projections for hundreds of jobs.

Plus, we give you advice on how to reduce your odds of getting a pink slip, no matter where you work.


Fueled by demand from an aging u.s. population, many of the fastest-growing careers are in the health-care industry. This field should stay hot for years to come.

Specific jobs and salary levels with stable prospects include doctors ($156,010 and up), registered nurses ($57,280), pharmacists ($94,520), physical therapists ($66,200) and occupational therapists ($60,470). With the increasing emphasis on controlling health-care costs, demand is also booming for physician assistants ($74,980).

And don't overlook the behind-the-scenes jobs in this field, from health-care administrators ($73,340), who handle the business side of delivering care, to medical scientists ($61,680), who conduct research and develop new treatments and drugs.

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Just as people will always need health care, so too will there always be a need for teachers. Teachers at any grade level who specialize in high-demand fields, such as math, science or bilingual education ($43,580 and up), should have an easy time finding and keeping a job.

And the outlook for college instructors ($56,120 and up) is promising, too. College enrollment is rising as the number of 18- to 24-year-olds increases. Plus, more adults are returning to school to enhance their career prospects, pursue personal interests or change fields.

Some areas of the country look more promising for teachers than others because education jobs follow population trends. So teachers in fast-growing states in the South and West, such as Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Texas, will offer more opportunities than slower-growth areas in the Midwest and Northeast, according to the BLS. Inner cities tend to have more sustained demand than rural or suburban areas.


No matter what happens to the economy, the public has to be protected. That makes security jobs, such as police officers ($47,460), detectives ($69,310), private investigators ($33,750) and private security guards ($21,530), good choices for job stability. The BLS reports that layoffs in this industry are rare. And when law-enforcement officers do lose their jobs as a result of budget cuts, they generally have little difficulty finding positions with other agencies.

Plus, in today's increasingly global environment, any position related to international security is a good bet.


Going green isn't limited to switching from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescents. The BLS expects the number of workers in environmental careers, including ecologists ($76,511), geoscientists ($72,660), hydrologists ($66,260), environmental chemists ($56,100) and others, to grow by 22% to 25% over the next decade-a much higher growth rate than for other occupations.

As the U.S. population increases and moves into environmentally sensitive locations, planners and developers will need scientists who can advise them on how to use land efficiently and how to make sure that water resources are protected.


Fueled by the growing population of non-English speakers in the U.S., specialists in foreign languages and cultures will be in demand to work in government and the private sector. Jobs for translators and interpreters, for example, are expected to grow by 24% over the next decade. The median hourly wage is $17.10, although pay varies widely depending on the language, subject matter and employer. Language specialists with the federal government earn an average of $76,287 per year. Most in demand are those who are fluent in Middle Eastern and North African languages, along with Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish and American Sign Language.

The globalization of business increases the demand for international management analysts ($68,050 and up). As U.S. firms expand overseas, they need help formulating business strategies, in addition to dealing with legal matters and other issues specific to each country in which they have a presence.

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Some of the most stable jobs around are with the federal government, where firings and layoffs occur at just one-fourth the rate of the private sector, reports the BLS. One reason: Even in tough economic times, when businesses are forced to downsize, the government must carry on. And each year, only one in every 5,000 nondefense workers is fired for poor performance, according to the Cato Institute, a nonprofit public-policy research organization. Those are pretty good odds for prospective employees.

The federal government hires workers across a broad range of fields -- everything from accounting to zoology. Over the next few years, it's expected to have more than 500,000 job openings, as droves of federal workers reach retirement age.

As a further lure, the feds offer one of the sweetest benefits packages around, and the pay is more competitive than you might think. Entry-level jobs sometimes pay less than they do in the private sector, based on education and skill level. But on average, the salary discrepancies even out over time. Depending on the field, some government workers actually have higher average earnings than their counterparts in the private sector, according to the BLS and the Office of Personnel Management.


Workers without a college degree may have a harder time finding a stable career with a good paycheck, says Hansen. But possibilities exist. The key is to look for jobs that can't be outsourced, especially overseas. Hospitality and retail are attractive industries for workers without a four-year degree. Health care is also a promising field, particularly such jobs as home health aide ($9.34 per hour), pharmacy technician ($12.32 per hour), medical assistant ($12.64 per hour) and dental assistant ($14.53 per hour). Other occupations that are in demand: pest-control worker ($13.41 per hour) and mechanic ($14.45 per hour).

But there's no getting around it: Getting as much education as possible is worth your while. "Education leads to more career opportunities, better job security and higher wages," says Hansen.


No matter what field you're in, you could lose your job. But there are plenty of things you can do to protect yourself and increase your odds of getting another position should the worst happen. For starters, never be complacent, says Hansen. "You don't have to be job-hunting every day, but you should always be proactive about your career." That means keeping your résumé current and building a professional network in your field.

Hansen also recommends that you work to promote yourself within the company. Try to position yourself as the go-to person, and keep an eye out for ways you can save your employer money or increase profits in tough times. Volunteer for assignments, be cheerful, maintain high visibility, and follow up with your boss to keep him or her abreast of your accomplishments.

Get more advice on how to make the most of your money and make a seamless transition to the next phase of your life. Order your copy of Kiplinger's Success With Your Money ($5.95) today.

Erin Burt
Contributing Editor,