Most economists do not expect the U.S. economy will go through a depression related to the credit-crisis-mortgage-meltdown-bailout bonanza. Most Americans, however, do.
A recent CNN poll finds that nearly 60 percent of Americans believe we're very likely facing a depression. It's a bearish view but probably bolstered by recent headlines, like those about a survey from consulting firm Watson Wyatt, which found that 26 percent of companies expect they'll conduct layoffs in the next 12 months. Indeed, a depression spells bad news for workers. The last time this country's economy saw such a painful downturn, 1 in 4 American workers was unemployed and looking for work. The unemployment rate was 24.9 percent in 1933, according to Labor Department data.
Of course, that means that 75 percent of workers were employed. So, while most Americans would suffer in a depression, some careers should remain strong, maybe even be bolstered. Here's a look at 15 career fields with particular resilience:
Accounting: Bad economic times increase businesses' and individuals' desire to wisely account for every last dollar.
Education: Even in the current slowdown, our political leaders seem committed to education spending, and voters continue to pass education bonds to upgrade facilities.
Entertainment: During the Great Depression, the movie industry boomed as people craved escapism and had time to burn. That would very likely be the same today: The film, video game, sports, and creative arts industries should remain viable.
Utilities: This is the classic defensive stock investment. Even in the worst of times, utilities stay cranking.
Home, car, commercial, and industrial repair: In a bad economy, the rule is—don't replace, repair. It doesn't just go for you and your 12-year-old sedan or your leaky toilet. In a depression, struggling car manufacturers will more often opt to repair than replace a balky welding robot.
Alternative energy: Despite all the media attention to solar and wind energy, it's possible that the nuclear industry would, over the next decade, create the most jobs.
Health care: The jobs with the most security include registered nurses, physician assistants, internal medicine physicians, dentists, optometrists, pharmacists, and physical therapy assistants.
Law firms: If they specialize in discrimination law, immigration law, or sexual harassment—they'll still need plenty of employees.
Law enforcement: In tough times, the level of crime tends to increase.
Community colleges: Many people return to school for retraining when they're unable to land a good job. Even people with college degrees will turn to community colleges because they typically teach technical skills and offer practical, career-related training at a price that's affordable—even in a depression.
Senior services: There's a wide range of industries and fields that will most likely continue to benefit from baby boomers getting older, including senior housing, home retrofitting, geriatric care management, and, of course, the aforementioned healthcare.
Vice industries: Sex tends to sell well in a depression, as does liquor.
Clergy : People seek spiritual support in tough times.
Repossession, foreclosure, and debt collection: When borrowers can't pay back their loans on homes or cars or credit cards, someone has to collect and evict. If you're a car person, there will be jobs repossessing giant SUVs from borrowers who took advantage of no-qualification loans even when they knew it was more than they could afford.
Government (especially homeland security, health care, accounting/auditing, information technology, and taxes): Government has the power to collect taxes in good times and bad. It may be the last bastion of secure employment, requiring 40-hour workweeks and offering ample sick days, holidays, and vacation days.