Despite the loss of 533,000 jobs in November, the most in 34 years, it still may be possible to find a new job if you're a nurse, a central banker or a natural gas pipeline worker.
"It's a big economy; 350 million people there's always going to be people hiring," said Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.
In professions where there have long been labor shortages, such pharmacists and nurses, qualified workers can still write their own tickets.
"You can't say no one is hiring," said John Tirinzonie, Connecticut's state labor economist. Though he added: "They're hiring very specific types of people and they're hiring a lot less numbers than they were."
Since the recession started a year ago, the number of unemployed people in the country has increased by 2.7 million. The unemployment rate, now at 6.7 percent, is expected to climb even higher in 2009.
In the face of that gloom, here are some questions and answers about who is hiring.
What fields are hiring?
Even Friday's dismal November jobs report had tiny positive glimmers in the form of fields that are doing a little bit of hiring mostly in the low thousands, and nowhere near enough to offset the hundreds of thousands of job losses elsewhere.
Look to your "Monopoly" board for a couple of the industries that are hiring: railroads and utilities. Others are just as old school, like the logging and mining sector, and food, drink and tobacco manufacturing. The oil business is still adding a few jobs, as is pipeline transportation. General merchandise stores also did some pre-holiday hiring.
The least surprising category that's hiring is "monetary authorities central bank," which added 200 jobs between October and November. Yes, the Federal Reserve has a lot on its plate.
What industries generally don't shrink when times are bad?
Health care and education tend to stay flat during bad times. That's it.
This recession has sparked a surge in federal spending so much so that the government hopes to add about 100,000 jobs this year, Van Horn said.
"This is somewhat due to retirements, somewhat because federal government is going to get a lot bigger," he said.
Are there specific jobs, even at companies laying people off, that will continue to be filled?
Yes. Van Horn's program recently hosted a conference with panelists from companies that hire legions of engineers, including Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and International Business Machines Corp.
"Every single one of them said, 'In the last recession, we cut back too much and when things picked up, we didn't have the people to do the work,"' he said. "They're still hiring because they need to stockpile people for the demand that will eventually return."
In the financial services sector, some hiring continues as companies lay off workers who make $350,000 and replace them with workers who make $75,000. Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which cut 10 percent of its staff in the last few months, has been running select help wanted ads for junior positions.
Are some states better off than others?
Yes. Even in industries that are shrinking nationally, the reality is rosier in some places than in others.
Connecticut, for instance, has seen its financial services workforce shrink only slightly, despite widespread layoffs in New York, thanks to its more stable insurance base. The state's construction industry is also holding up better than construction is nationally.
Similarly, Wyoming's energy industry continues to hire.
By Ellen Simon