These Jobs Are Safest If a Recession Hits: Report

Some occupations are more immune to economic downturns than others, says the Fed.
A woman packs it up as she leaves her office.

With unemployment levels at a low of 3.7% (a number it hasn't reached since December 1969) and the stock market soaring higher than ever, Americans have plenty of reasons to be happy with today's economy. But just as everything that goes up must come down, some financial market watchers are already predicting an economic downturn sometime in the future. While it’s impossible to predict what will trigger the next recession or how it will wreak havoc on everyday Americans, a recent study issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis' Economic Data division (FRED) sheds light on what types of jobs have higher unemployment rates—through good times and bad.

Looking at data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics collected from the past 18 years, the report breaks down the working population into 5 broad categories:

  • Natural Resources, Construction and Maintenance Occupations (e.g., construction workers and coal miners)
  • Production, Transportation and Material Moving Occupations (e.g., the FedEx delivery person)
  • Service Occupations (e.g., the waiter who brought the burger to your table at Ruby Tuesday's)
  • Sales and Office Occupations (e.g., someone who stares at spreadsheets all day)
  • Management, Professional and Related Occupations (e.g., a doctor, lawyer or boss)

Looking at the unemployment rate for each of these categories from 2000 until today, the study found management, professional and related occupations had the lowest rate of unemployment (which should shock nobody), peaking at 5.5% in July 2009. Occupations in natural resources, construction and maintenance had the highest level of unemployment with few exceptions, reaching 20.8% in February 2010 (though as of September 2018, the unemployment rate in these occupations is actually less than that of service occupations and production, transportation and material moving occupations).

FRED Graph on Unemployment Rates

Going by the data above, anyone who's worried about getting a pink slip in the next, inevitable recession should know that management positions have a Teflon effect, even during times of high unemployment. Of course "getting a job in management" isn't a piece of advice that's easy—or even possible—for most workers to follow through on, but for those just starting out in their careers or who are fortunate enough to work somewhere that offers additional training to help them transition into a management role, the additional job security is something to keep in mind.

James Ellis

James Ellis is a Staff Writer for ValuePenguin, covering credit, banking, travel and other personal finance topics. He previously wrote for Newsweek, Men's Health, and other nationally-published magazines.

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