Recession-Proof Jobs

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, November 2, 2008

For the past several months, I've had a hard time picking selections for the Color of Money Book Club.

Many of the books stacked against the wall in my office were written before what I call the Great Millennium Meltdown. Although some forecast trouble ahead, much of the financial advice lacks today's context. That's not a criticism. Nobody knew how bad things would get.

So as I began looking for a selection for November, I searched for a book that I thought could truly be helpful to a lot of people trying to make ends meet. This is what I found: "150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs" (Jist Publishing, $16.95).

Jist, a division of EMC, is a leading publisher of materials to help people in their job or career searches. This book was written by two Jist editors, Sue Pines and Stephanie Koutek, and Laurence Shatkin, who has spent more than 25 years in the career information business.

"Nobody's job is 100 percent secure, but you can take steps to reduce your chances of being laid off in the event of an economic downturn and to increase your chances of bouncing back if you are laid off anyway," the authors write.

Oh, how those words are applicable for today's tribulations.

Although recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the unemployment rate held at 6.1 percent in September, the number of unemployed has increased over the past 12 months by 2.2 million, to a total of 9.5 million.

In September, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) rose by 167,000, to 2 million. Over the past 12 months, the number has increased by 728,000. The long-term unemployed accounted for 21.1 percent of the total unemployed in September.

As the authors point out, some occupations and industries can withstand business downturns better than others. During a recession, people may curtail their shopping or hold onto their cars for a few more years, but the sick still need medical attention. Registered nurses ranked fourth on the list of recession-proof jobs. Physician assistants were 11th.

"If you look around and you see a tempest-tossed economy or have reason to think one is coming soon -- or if you consider that a recession is certain to arrive eventually -- this book can help you identify jobs and industries that can likely weather the storm," the authors promise.

The No. 1 spot on the top 150 list was, not surprisingly, held by computer systems analysts. On average, they earn about $70,000 a year. The next two top recession-proof jobs were also in the computer technology field. Postsecondary teachers were fifth on the list.

In part, to identify the top jobs for a recession, the authors relied on the ratings in the Occupational Outlook Quarterly, a publication of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In this book you will find a number of lists -- actually 75 -- that break down the job rankings by pay, growth and number of openings. In addition to the top recession-proof jobs, you'll find a list of the 40 best-paying recession-proof careers. There's a list of the jobs with the most openings during a downturn.

Each job description includes information on the education or training needed to land the position. Many of the jobs require a college degree. However, there are some that don't, such as a dental hygienist, eighth on the list.

The job listings also have helpful facts on what someone starting out would earn; an annual earnings figure, and the earnings growth potential. The latter is simply characterized in ranges that go from very low to very high.

As with any lists like this, there are limitations.

"Understand that a problem with such data is that it describes an average," the authors write. "Just as there is no precisely average person, there is no such thing as a statistically average example of a particular job."

In this book, the authors deliver an immensely informative guide to find a job that just may help you keep paying the bills in good times and bad.

To become a member of this book club, all you have to do is read the recommended book. I invite members, including those who haven't had a chance to read the book, to join me online for a discussion. If you're in a career rut or looking for tips on getting a recession-proof job, join me for a live discussion with Sue Pines and Laurence Shatkin at noon Nov. 20 at

In addition, every month I randomly select readers to receive a copy of the book, donated by the publisher. For a chance to win a copy of "150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs," send an e-mail to Please include your name and an address so we can send you a book if you win.

· On the air: Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and at

· By mail: Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

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