Sunday, October 5, 2008

Which Careers Are Viable Even in a Depression?

In my view, the bailout plan is putting lipstick on a pig. It's designed to build confidence in a system not worthy of confidence. 

I agree with the Boston Globe article that argues that even the unprecedentedly massive $700 billion bailout is unlikely to stem a long-term decline in the U.S. economy. Indeed, I'd argue that a depression is likely given the U.S.'s severe structural problems:
  • An economy built on overspending in a world when ever fewer U.S. workers can afford to overspend and in which even wealthy Americans are realizing you can't spend your way into happiness.
  • To compete in a global economy, ever more American companies are automating ever more jobs or converting them to just-in-time,  part-time, temporary positions with employees paying an ever larger share of health care costs.  Meanwhile, costs, for example, for energy and college, continue to rise so consumers have less money to pump into the rest of the economy.
  • Success in the global marketplace requires ever higher-level skills, but the gap between the perecentage of Asians versus Americans with those skills is increasing. 
  • An American ethos that ever more values collectivism and big-government solutions rather than individual initiative and entrepreneurship.
  • A housing market that had grown so overheated that even an average physician cannot afford, on her or his income, to buy a home in a desirable neighborhood in most major cities and their suburbs. Less home equity means less comfortability with spending. Fewer people owning homes means less spending--people spend more on homes they own than on those they rent.
  • Uncontrolled immigration resulting in large numbers of uneducated, non-English speaking adults whose worklives are limited to low-income physical careers, and when their bodies give out from years of physical labor, many will be unemployable and become costly wards of the state. 
  • A large and growing percentage of the U.S. population is from a low socioeconomic background and that group has many more babies than do middle-class people. While, of course, many low-income, uneducated people are fine parents and get good educations for their kids, on average that is less often the case than with middle-class people. Of course, over the generations, the effect of this is geometric. 
  • An education system in which politics trumps pedagogy. For example, the bipartisan- beloved No Child Left Behind reallocates school resources from those students with the greatest potential to profit to those with the greatest deficits. To satisfy political special interest groups, in most urban and suburban public schools, an elementary school class will not be grouped by ability. Instead it will likely contain both learning-disabled and high-achieving students, native speakers of English and newcomers who speak little or no English, even that means that all students learn less.
While the vast majority of Americans will suffer as the result of the likely depression, a few career areas should be impervious, perhaps even bolstered:
  • Health care: especially registered nurses (particularly med-surg and home health care,) physician assistants, internal medicine physicians, dentists, optometrists, pharmacists, and physical therapy assistants.
  • The entertainment industry. Just as the movie industry boomed during the Great Depression because so many people were unemployed and had time on their hands and many others craved escapism, the movie, video game, sports, and creative arts industries should remain robust.  
  • Repairers: home, car, commercial, industrial. In a bad economy, people repair rather than replace.
  • Education. Even in the recent tough times, our political leaders are calling for increased education spending and voters continue to pass education bonds.
  • The energy industry. Despite all the media extolling of solar, wind, etc., I believe nuclear will create the most jobs.
  • Accounting. Especially in bad times, wisely accounting for every dollar is indispensable.
  • The discrimination industry: law firms specializing in discrimination law, legalizing illegals, sexual harassment; government jobs in watchdog agencies such as the EEOC.
  • Law enforcement. In tough times, crime tends to increase. 
  • Community colleges. Many people, unable to land a decent job, will go back to school for career retraining. Even for those with college degrees, community colleges tend to offer to the most practical career-related training and at a price affordable even in a depression.
  • Senior services: for example housing, home retrofitting, geriatric care management, and, of course, the aforementioned health care.
  • The sex and liquor industries. They've always thrived, in good times and bad. 
  • The clergy. People seek spiritual support in tough times.
  • The repossession, foreclosure, and debt collection industries.  For example, there will be plenty of jobs repossessing the big SUVs from owners who knew they couldn't afford them but took advantage of low-qual/no-qual loans. 
  • Counselors, therapists, and coaches, including career-related. With the Mental Health Parity Act passed, counseling will be covered under people's health insurance and in tough times, people will seek counseling. 
  • Nationalizing the U.S. health system. I predict this in light of people's inability to afford good care, the system being overtaxed by millions of uninsured people, and Obama's predisposition to big-government solutions. This will create countless government jobs in accounting/actuarial science, information systems, management, etc.
  • Goverment work, across the board, but especially in homeland security, health care, and the IRS. The government has police powers to collect taxes in good times and bad, and thus will be more impervious to economic declines. As I've so often written, I believe government, for non-stars, is the last bastion of secure, well-benefitted employment that generally requires only 40-hour workweeks, and offers ample sick days, holidays, and vacation days. 
I hope I'm not being unduly pessimistic. What do you think? And if I'm right, can you think of other careers likely to be viable in a depression?


Anonymous said...

Sounds good to me. Adding that bar owners will be busy. Pp likes to drink during depression while depressed. We will be walking during our depression yet the shoe repairmen trade is almost gone. Radio announcers like you will be need to spread the bad news. Dog breeders will help because men’s best friend is a dog. I know long hair is in although a good barber is like gold. Some need for a gunsmith and locksmiths for good measure. So all I am saying is, man there is a long road before us “we the pp”. It’s great you can see the light in all the dark before us. Thanks for the insight Marty.

Anonymous said...

Temp staffing agencies usually see an upsurge in bad times as employers push their current employees harder and bring on hired guns rather than new FT employees. There should be more activity on both sides. As there are fewer slots for salaried staff, more people remain unemployed longer and turn to temping to pay the bills. So it seems like temp staffing firm recruiters would be in demand.

Okie said...


I agree with your assessment. I notice you mention entrepeneuship quite frequently. In your opinion, what is the best book on entrepeneuship? By the way, you may be amused by the following comment. Many of my fellow federal workers believe there will be massive RIFs (layoffs) within the federal government if Obama is elected. I have tried to calm their fears that under a Democrat or even a Republican, government will continue to grow and their jobs are safe.

Anonymous said...

I see the country heading this way, too. What I think is particularly sad is the idea that people who previously relied mainly on themselves will begin to rely more and more on the government (really the taxpayers) at a time when we should do exactly the opposite. Our government is so overtaxed that the last thing it needs is more people and companies sticking their hands out.

As for possible jobs during this time: what about services that cater to the rich? I would think that wealthy people and families will be more likely to weather the depression/recession storm than most, and they will still have the lifestyles to which they've become accustomed.

Marty Nemko said...

At the risk of ego, I'd refer you to the articles on my site ( on entrepreneurship.

Anonymous said...

Another place where jobs will grow is the military. Why? I think that any depression would lead to a war, or st least a lot of civil unrest.

The last time we had a depression, all sorts of vile dictatorships sprung up, if only because the poor and starving were willing to give them the time of day. The world now has a surplus of dictatorships, and they may be emboldened to do things like invade other countries in hard times.

overeducated/underpaid said...

I am heartened by this- I have an M.L.I.S. and a M.S. in Information Architecture and have not been able to find a decent job (which I define as reasonable benefits, I don't even care about pay at this point). I would happily work a government job.


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