Some employers are still hiring

The U.S. economy is sinking deeper into recession and companies are shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs, but there's a select swath of the U.S. economy that's been protected — so far — from the bad economic weather.

Schools and health care providers, information technology firms and customer service firms, although not thriving, are at least still hiring.

U.S. Labor Department statistics show the growth despite the overall negative numbers. The education and health care industries added 140,000 jobs from July to November.

Meanwhile, the non-farm sector lost nearly 1.4 million jobs during those five months, with the heaviest losses hitting professional and business services, which includes temporary employment agencies and waste management, the Labor Department figures show.

Education and health services historically have been resistant to economic downturns because they're often the last items on local government and household budgets to be axed, said Gary Burtless, a labor economist at the Brookings Institution, a center-left policy research organization in Washington.

Demand for education also is growing as unemployed workers go back to school to beef up their résumés, Burtless said.

"State and local governments just think it's unavoidable to pay these education expenses," he said. "And you're not going to postpone your surgery just because the economy's bad."

Also growing are jobs that help companies ramp up sales or cut employees to survive the bad economic times.

For example, sales representatives, followed by account/customer support professionals, topped the list of the 25 most recession-proof jobs compiled by the online employment search site Jobfox.

"In this environment, sales needs are huge," said Jobfox spokesman Barry Lawrence. "You can't get out of this situation unless you sell goods and services."

Carla Ockerman-Hunter, a certified Master Career Counselor and president of Lexington career development company Career Span, noted that customer service jobs transcend industries.

"I was opening my 16-year-old's daughter checking account with her today, and the bank rep we were talking to said the key skill for us is customer service," she said last week.

She also noted the strong Kentucky presence of business support company ACS, which operates call centers and other facilities in the Bluegrass. A check last week of the ACS careers Web site showed more than 30 openings in the state.

But the big hope for job seekers is that the incoming Obama administration makes good on its promises to launch a multibillion-dollar economic stimulus and financial regulation plans that will spur new employment.

If that happens, Jobfox predicts big staffing boosts in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, construction management and compliance accounting, among other fields.

Lawrence said the biggest area of job growth remains information technology, especially for small- and medium-size companies that can adapt more nimbly to changing economic realities.

Information technology "is just embedded in every company and non-profit," Lawrence said. "It's a huge important role that every business has to have."

At No. 5 on the Jobfox list are software designers and developers. Nurses are in eighth place and higher education faculty is 22nd.

Jobfox compiled the list by analyzing a random sample of more than 4,000 job listings from 2,000 employers over a 120-day period that ended Oct. 28.

Burtless, of Brookings, said that a broader recovery was unlikely until spring at the earliest. In the meantime, even those industries that so far have been spared massive job losses could take a hit.

"Things can turn very fast," he said. "A lot of people who might have held a pretty good job in the financial-services industry in April are now unemployed."

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