12 Job Fields That Boom During (or Because of) Recessions

Updated: April 27, 2010

During this recession (and most others) virtually all of the media's focus is on job losses. Many specific fields - like construction and financial services, in the case of today's recession - are devastated, and these, too, get plenty of attention. But one of the most basic facts about the economy is also one of the most ignored. Fundamentally, there are two sides to every transaction. So while the media and politicians are eager to depict the hardships of one side, the fact remains that some job fields on the other side are doing superbly well. Some of these fields simply happen to be doing well, while others are thriving precisely because of the recession and the opportunities its fallout has created. Today, Focus examines 12 job fields that boom during recessions.

Government

One consistent feature of virtually all recessions is the government attempting to "do something" - usually creating a slew of new regulatory agencies and/or programs to ameliorate whatever ills are said to have caused the recession. Today's recession is no different, and sure enough, government employment has more than held its own. A February 2008 article in the Washington Examiner reported that "among the few sectors of the economy showing net employment growth over the past year is the federal government." 33,000 new positions were added in January alone, and "only 9,000 of those new slots were for temporary Census jobs." In short, recessions tend to hurt private sector jobs far worse than than they ever hurt government jobs.

Foreclosure Auctioneers

Much of the 2008-2010 recession has to do with fallout from the housing boom and bust. While the media rightly mentions all the hardship this has caused to foreclosed-upon homeowners, they neglect to mention that business has never been better for foreclosure auctioneers. Those whose job it is to resell foreclosed properties have more work they can handle. Indeed, some foreclosure departments are so saturated with homes to auction off that they actually cannot sell them as fast as they come in. While it's certainly a shame to witness the number of homeowners who have lost their residences, there is no denying the benefits involved to those on the other side of this particular transaction.

Storage Facilities

Storage facilities are a textbook example of a counter-cyclical industry - that is, a field that succeeds to the extent that the rest of the economy fails. Because recessions tend to strike at the very core of a person's finances (including, in this case, mortgage payments), people often choose to move into an apartment or a house in a less expensive area of the country. As a result, these people end up needing a place to temporarily store all of their belongings. Storage facilities, truck rental companies and other firms which prosper by assisting in the moving process all derive substantial income from this, and are well known as an industry that not only survives but thrives during recessions.

Utilities

Another field that seldom experiences layoffs or slowdowns during recessions is utilities. Simply put, most people are not going to stop using lights, water or electricity because the stock market takes a dive. On the contrary - when people get laid off, they often find themselves at home far more often than they were previously, which leads to even more utility use. When this happens, a case could be made that the need for utility workers actually expands. At the very least, this is a field that will not find itself in any kind of serious recession-related trouble.

Pawn Shops

One of the many behavior changes driven by economic downturns is a cost-cutting mentality that keeps consumers out of high-priced stores. A major beneficiary of this are pawn shops, which sell second-hand items that are often still in excellent condition for far less than their original prices. A 2008 Huffington Post article, for instance, noted that "business is booming" for pawn shops. One shop owner exclaimed that he'd "been on a continuous uphill run for a number of months" and furthermore, that he didn't "see anything that would stop it." Nor is this at all an anamoly. Pawn shops are yet another business on the seldom-discussed "other side" of economic transactions affected by the recession.

Sales Agents For Securities & Investments

As MSN explains, sales agents for securities and investments are a eager beneficiary of down markets. When a stock exchange tanks, it triggers a blizzard of selling activity (including a lot of irrational selling of shares in financially solvent companies.) While this is unquestionably a serious loss to the companies involved, the brokers and sales agents who execute the sales make a king's ransom in the process. Like the foreclosure auctioneers, there is scarcely a better time imaginable to be a securities sales agent than in the thick of a down market.

Bankruptcy Lawyers

We all know that recessions lead to a rise in bankruptcy. Our current recession in particular has driven an even larger increase than other downturns. It's a veritable veritable nightmare for the affected homeowners, but the bankruptcy lawyers who walk them through the process profit quite handsomely. Bankruptcy law is no walk in the park, and even a tiny missed step can be financially ruinous for the homeowner. Whether a bankruptcy lawyer is paid by the homeowner directly or by the government on the homeowner's behalf (in connection with a relief program, for instance) makes no difference to the attorney's bank account.

Equipment Auctioneers

Our current recession has been one of the worst in generations for the construction industry. Demand for new construction projects simply dries up in the wake of economic despair and uncertainty. Although this sends a lot of foreman and contractors to the unemployment line, it simultaneously "lead to a vibrant market for secondhand heavy equipment", according to MSN. The same applies to farm equipment. Slowdowns in agriculture equate to idle equipment, which the owners generally try to avoid by selling it off while it still has some semblance of resale value. Any business involved in the resale of construction or farm equipment (estimated to be a more than $100 billion market) benefits dramatically from that process.

Job Recruiters

Much is made of the troubles suffered by laid off employees. Like every other transaction, however, this one has multiple participants. To the extent that a lot of people are out of work, job recruiters and head hunters prosper. Demand for their services is never higher than when massive segments of society are unemployed, and you can bet that such people are anything but dismayed when recessions reach the boiling point. A competent job recruiter will see his or her inbox positively stuffed with requests from distressed employees eager to get back into the workforce.

Debt Collectors

Debt collection is an extremely results-oriented profession. Generally speaking, you paid a percentage of the debt you are able to collect from the people who owe it. No collections, no payment. It comes as no surprise, then, that debt collectors succeed during economic downturns. To put it bluntly, there's a lot more debt to collect. If a debt collector is unsuccessful in their attempts to collect from Borrower A, there is a seemingly endless sea of "Borrower B's" to pursue and hopefully collect from instead. A collector who does their job courteously and empathetically can exit the recession having increased their income by an order of magnitude.

Vice

It's been proven time and time again that nothing succeeds in a recession like vice. Cigarettes, alcohol and gambling are perpetual winners when the rest of the economy appears to be doomed. To be sure, the addictive element of each of these things has much to do with that. However, there is also the fact that many people wish to escape, somehow, the pain and discomfort of economic problems. Each of these things offers a temporary reprieve from the usual worries about jobs, incomes and mortgage payments, and to the extent this remains the case, the "vice" industries produce at full throttle during financial meltdowns. SoFakingDrunk.com concurs, showing that sales in all these categories are up since 2008.

High-end luxury items

There will always be an upper crust of super-rich people for whom recessions are, at worst, a minor problem. Jobs and industries which service this class of people often come out of the recession just fine. Examples include high-end auto manufacturers/dealers, exclusive resorts and estate planning. Service businesses, especially, which cater to the super-rich are unlikely to see slowdowns if they have built up long-lasting relationships with their clients.

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