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15 Jobs That Are Most Vulnerable to a Recession

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Vulnerable Vocations

Recessions are stressful for everyone who earns a paycheck, but some jobs are far more vulnerable than others during times of economic crisis. The next recession will be unlike any in modern history, as it will coincide with a pandemic that has devastated the global economy all by itself. According to experts, these jobs face the greatest threat of extinction or dramatic reduction during a recession, particularly during these uncertain times.

Automated robot warehouse worker

Anything That Can Be Automated

The next recession will coincide with the rise of artificial intelligence and automation, putting at risk any jobs that a computer or robot can do faster and better. "If companies can use cheaper software and robotics that gets the job done faster and more accurately, it would undoubtedly affect people’s job security," says Yaniv Masjedi, chief marketing officer at business communications firm Nextiva. The most vulnerable among these, according to Masjedi, include jobs in manufacturing plants, secretarial duties, inventory management, and responsibilities in the food preparation and service industry. "Since these are highly repetitive, automation can replace such a workforce with robots that can mimic the movements with 99% accuracy, reducing the risk of failures and error tremendously," Masjedi notes. "Robots and software programs are also unaffected by health crises like pandemics, making it an even more viable option for companies that want to continue operations without fear of risking anyone’s health."

Related: 35 Jobs That'll Soon Be Lost to Automation 

Harbor Hotel

Hospitality and Tourism Jobs

Jodi L. Standke, CEO of business consulting firm Talon Performance Group, Inc., anticipates that the hospitality and tourism industry will be "slow to recover or may never recover. People are not traveling and staying mostly due to the many restrictions in place." Even in recessions not related to pandemics, these industries are often hit first and worst because they rely on discretionary income, which is tight or nonexistent for many during difficult economic times.

Related: I Drove Cross-Country During the Pandemic — Here’s What I Learned

Empty Movie Theater

Arts and Entertainment Jobs

Like hospitality and tourism, the arts and entertainment industry has been slammed by the COVID crisis simply because people are not able to go to the theater or movies in most places, and they’re not going where they are allowed. "Again, with the many restrictions in place, people are not gathering in inside group settings," Standke says. Here, too, however, trouble during times of recession is not unique to the coronavirus. Like tourism and travel, arts and entertainment expenditures require discretionary income. It’s an easy and obvious choice for the chopping block when financial belts are being tightened.  

Related: 14 Best Drive-In Movie Theaters in America Open During the Pandemic

Paperwork stack

Legal Assistant

Standke also predicts that the role of legal assistant could be headed for extinction or something close to it, thanks mostly to technology that allows lawyers to perform many of the legal assistant’s traditional duties on their own. She also speculates that instead of disappearing altogether, a new hybrid position might emerge. "The legal administrative assistant may morph into a legal assistant/paralegal role with lawyers and paraprofessionals doing more with technology and for themselves," Standke says.

Arizona Cardinals, State Farm Stadium

Leisure Industry Jobs

Andrew Roderick, an expert in economics and the CEO of Credit Repair Cos., predicts that this industry, which includes businesses focused on recreation, entertainment, sports, and tourism, will continue to take a hard hit. "Of industries that are most at risk during a COVID-19 recession, or any other recession for that matter, leisure and hospitality industries have seen the largest immediate impact as a result of restrictions on large gatherings of people," says Roderick, who adds that even "as lockdowns ease up, the spacing at these facilities will only allow 20%-30% of previous revenue to return, certainly not sustainable for businesses to keep all their employees. Leisure and hospitality industries are also expected to face continued headwinds, and as they employ the most workers of vulnerable industries, potential layoffs will affect the most people."

Related: 14 Industries That Have Been Hit Hardest by the Pandemic

Toys ‘R’ Us
Jorge Villalba/istockphoto

Retail Jobs

Long before the pandemic hit, the writing was on the wall for the retail industry, with sacred cows like Sears and Toys 'R' Us falling victim to the unstoppable tide of online shopping. The pandemic shutdown only accelerated the inevitable. "The retail sector has been one of the most punished within the COVID-19 crisis," says Laura Jimenez, an executive at B2B software provider Traffic Truffle. "With the rise of e-commerce sites and only-online retailers, physical stores will soon be a window." On the bright side, Jimenez believes that while many retail positions will disappear, the people who fill those jobs might simply be repurposed for online positions. "Retailers must think of a strategy to keep their workers in the online purchasing process," Jimenez notes. "Positions at the store may disappear, but retailers do need to take better care of their online purchase process, so new positions might appear here."

Related: 36 Companies That Have Filed for Bankruptcy Since the Pandemic Began — and 14 That Could Be Next

Human Resources Professional

Human Resources Positions

As jobs in traditional industries like retail disappear, the professionals who vet, hire, onboard, manage, and maintain those workers become vulnerable themselves. "HR professionals have been the other losers of this battle," Jimenez says. "Millions of professionals from this industry have been left behind as many companies have closed their hiring processes to reduce costs. HR professionals may not disappear 100%, but a large portion of them will be reduced at maximum."

Related: 23 Entry-Level Jobs You Can Do From Home With No Experience 

Food Service Worker
FG Trade/istockphoto

Restaurant Workers

When economic times are tough, eating out is one the first luxuries to go for most households. This reality makes these service jobs among the most vulnerable during any recession — but the nature of the pandemic has devastated the restaurant industry more severely than any traditional recession ever could. According to a McKinsey report cited by Allan Borch, a self-described growth hacker and founder and CEO of Dotcom Dollar, up to 13.4 million jobs are considered "vulnerable" in this industry. "Restaurants are closing all over the country because of varying dine-in restrictions," Borch notes. "While many have ramped up their food-delivery offerings, this might not be sustainable financially."

Related: Chain Restaurants That are Closing Locations This Year — and Which Could Be Next

Casino Worker

Casino Workers

Although lottery sales are generally recession-proof, casinos are frequently among the hardest hit during a recession. Add to that the rise of gambling digitization and automation, and the fact that in-person gambling has been largely impossible during the pandemic shutdown, and a near-future recession might be an economic tsunami for casino workers. "Due to safety distance regulations, casinos, which are usually in closed spaces, started decreasing the number of people in their facilities and turned toward digitalization," says Eduardo Litonjua, founder of Passive Income Tree. "Soon, we will see fewer casino workers, as everything will be digitized."

Hair Salon

Cosmetologists, Stylists, and Barbers

While hygiene products are consumer staples, beauty services are discretionary and people tend to wait longer between trips to the salon or barber during times of economic uncertainty. In the face of a pandemic-induced recession, this kind of up-close, hands-on work is especially vulnerable. "Beauty salons and barbers help us look good, but in a recession, people will take care of their (own) appearance in order to save money," says Max Edwards, founder of economic/lifestyle site Chances to Live the Millennial's Lifestyle. 

Dragon Images/shutterstock


During recessions, people are more likely to do their own taxes and manage their own money until the storm clouds clear — but it’s not just individuals who stop hiring accountants during difficult economic times. "There will also be less demand for accountants if businesses are failing and eventually shut down," Edwards says. Although the true scale of the carnage is yet to be seen, it’s certain that hundreds of thousands of businesses will close permanently in the wake of the COVID shutdown, and the accountants who served them could go down with the ship.

oil worker

Mining, Oil, and Gas Workers

At the end of March, industry market research and statistics firm IBIS World released a major study that included mining, oil, and gas workers among the most vulnerable to a COVID-related recession. A global decline in manufacturing is expected to sink the prices of commodities like oil, coal, and copper. Also, reduced travel due to virus shutdowns is already forcing energy producers to decrease output.

Warehouse forklift

Warehousing Jobs

Warehousing jobs have long been vulnerable to the rise of automation and, according to the IBIS report, that dynamic will only get worse in the face of a recession. With manufacturing activity expected to decline, warehousing jobs — connected directly to the fate of the manufacturing sector — will likely dry up even faster. All that said — and as reported in Cheapism's "Jobs That Could Grow During the Pandemic and Recession," warehouse managers and workers were jobs with some of the most growth between March 2 and May 11, according to Glassdoor, so jobs of this type may depend on the industry. 

Related: 37 Jobs With Flexible Hours and Great Hourly Rates

Airport Ground Crew

Transportation Jobs

The decline in the manufacturing, warehousing, and mining/energy sectors will both affect and be affected by a drop in transportation jobs as they apply to the trucking industry, which plays a critical role in the supply chain for those industries. The biggest hits in transportation, however, will likely be suffered by those who work in the industries that have already been hardest hit by the coronavirus — the cruise industry, scenic and sightseeing transportation, and the biggest of them all, the airline industry.

Related: Major U.S. Airports With the Most Flights Canceled by COVID-19

Open House

Real Estate Jobs

Finally, there’s real estate, an industry that is expected to take heat from downturns on both the residential and commercial sides. The former is due to widespread job loss and reduced household cash flow, and the latter is due mostly to the shuttering of businesses on a grand scale thanks to economic shutdowns. Even though people are still currently buying homes, the role of the traditional realtor is changing as online sites like Zillow and Trulia — combined with distancing restrictions — are reducing the need for traditional realtor services like providing listings and organizing open houses.

Related: New Rules for Buying and Selling a Home During the Pandemic