13 Hot Jobs in Hard Times

When the going gets tough, these careers get going.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated March 2009.

A recent CNN poll finds that nearly 60% of Americans believe we're likely facing a depression. Although most Americans would, of course, suffer in an economic depression, some careers should remain strong, maybe even bolstered by tough times.

1. Accounting. Bad times increase businesses' and individuals' desire to wisely account for every last dollar. Accounting jobs have declined in recent months but a bevy of planned new federal regulations may be a full-employment act for accountants.

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2. Education. Even in the recent tough times, our political leaders are calling for increased education spending and voters continue to pass education bonds.

Community colleges should also thrive. Unable to land a good job, many people will return to school for retraining. Even those with college degrees will turn to community colleges because they typically offer practical career-related training and at an affordable price.

3. Entertainment industry. During the Great Depression, the movie industry boomed as people craved escapism and had time to burn. That would likely be the same today: the film, video game, sports, and creative arts industries should be viable.

4. Utility companies. This is the classic defensive investment. Even in the worst times, utilities stay cranking.

5. Repairers. Home, car, commercial, industrial -- in a bad economy, the rule is don't replace; repair. For example, in a depression, struggling car manufacturers will more often opt to repair than replace a balky welding robot.

6. Energy industry. Despite all the media attention to solar, wind, etc., the nuclear industry may, over the next decade, create the most jobs.

7. Health care. especially registered nurses, physician assistants, internal medicine physicians, dentists, optometrists, pharmacists, and physical therapy assistants.

There should also be a boom in jobs related to healthcare reform, a Barack Obama priority. Many government jobs in accounting, actuarial science, information systems and management should result.

8. Senior services. An increasingly aging population will increase the need for housing, home retrofitting, geriatric care management, and, of course, the aforementioned health care.

9. Law enforcement. Crime doesn't take a break in tough times. In fact, it tends to increase.

10. "Sin" industries. Jobs related to the liquor, gaming and tobacco industries have always thrived, in good times and bad.(Sin stocks may also make good investments. See The Virtues of Vice Stocks for more info.)

11. The clergy. People seek spiritual support in tough times. Particularly poised for growth: Spanish-speaking Catholic priests and Muslim Imams.

12. The repossession, foreclosure and debt collection industries. For example, there will be jobs repossessing the big SUVs from owners who knew they couldn't afford them, but took advantage of no-qualification loans.

13. Government work. The Obama presidency is likely to mean more big-government solutions, creating government jobs across the board but especially in energy, the environment, inner-city education, financial regulation, homeland security, health care, accounting/auditing, information technology, and the IRS. The government has police powers to collect taxes in good times and bad, and so will be more impervious to economic declines.

I believe that for non-stars, government is the last bastion of secure, well-benefited employment that generally requires only 40-hour workweeks, and offers ample sick days, holidays, and vacation days.

Despite the stock market freefall and the continuing parade of business failures, I am cautiously optimistic that we will avoid a depression. But it's comforting to know that even in hard times, it should be possible to thrive.

Marty Nemko (bio) is a career coach and author of Cool Careers for Dummies.

Marty Nemko
Contributing Columnist, Kiplinger.com