Degrees Least and Most Impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic

Degrees Least and Most Impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Katy McWhirter

Published on September 1, 2021

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When considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on various sectors of the economy, it's clear that some areas held their own while others languished. In early 2020, public-facing roles seemingly vanished, while computer-based careers easily adapted to mandatory stay-at-home orders. Nonetheless, the American workforce saw overall unemployment rates rise by nearly 15 percentage points between March and April of 2020.

As a result, some academic paths and resultant careers have proven more pandemic-proof than others. While we don't suggest prospective students should choose their major based solely on the ramifications of a once-in-a-century pandemic, it's worth considering that some degrees can lead to more adaptable, resilient careers.

5 Degrees Least Impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic

It's not all bad economic news coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some careers and industries continue to grow, pivoting to help us adapt to a new way of life. As working from home became the norm for many workers, professionals in several fields increased their reliance on technology to complete tasks. As a result, careers associated with the following degrees rebounded quickly and showed relatively low unemployment rates.

The pandemic also sheds light on occupations that we view as essential. Industries like healthcare and education continued to provide vital services, reimagining day-to-day work to best serve communities. Below, we highlight five resilient degrees that can lead to adaptable, in-demand careers.


Computer and Information Sciences | Public Administration | Healthcare | Finance | Education


Computer and Information Sciences

Many computer and information sciences professionals didn't feel much of a negative impact on their day-to-day work, especially when considering how adept the field can be at allowing folks to work from home.

Employment data also underscores the pandemic-proof nature of this field. According to the monthly employment situation report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in April 2020, the computer systems design and related services industries only lost about 4% of its jobs between March and April of 2020. Additionally, this sector's unemployment rate didn't surpass 10%, while many other areas hemorrhaged jobs. After the initial economic shock of the pandemic in early 2020, this field displayed resilience and demonstrated that it is needed across industries.

A growing and resilient field, network and computer systems administrators earned a median salary of almost $85,000 annually as of May 2020.

Computer and Information Sciences Career Paths

Public Administration (Government)

Public administration jobs quickly recovered after taking an initial hit from the pandemic. Between April 2020 and April 2021, the unemployment rate for government workers fell from 9.4% to 2.3%. Additionally, during the critical period between March and April of 2020, the public administration sector only lost about 4% of its workforce — far less than many other industries.

Students entering public service occupations in education, social work, and public health can expect a relatively stable career — even in the face of a pandemic. In addition to being relatively pandemic-proof, urban planners, social workers, and police officers can all expect their fields to grow faster than average between 2019 and 2029, according to projections made by the BLS.

Public Administration Career Paths

Healthcare

No single industry has proven more essential during the pandemic than healthcare. Whether you're interested in health education, nursing, or healthcare management, these careers are vital to the functioning of an effective healthcare system.

Employment data also bears out the consequential nature of the healthcare industry during the COVID-19 era. While the field lost about 9% of its jobs (almost 1.5 million positions) between March and April of 2020, the majority of these — roughly 1 million jobs — returned to the workforce by April 2021.

Nursing graduates and other essential workers in healthcare can expect to enter a growing field, and RNs earned a median salary exceeding $75,000 per year as of May 2020.

Healthcare Career Paths

Finance

Many finance careers allow professionals to work from home while keeping the economy's wheels in motion. Supply chain managers and logistics specialists were vital when figuring out how to deliver household goods, organize mass COVID-19 testing, and distribute vaccines. Graduates with an interest in logistics can enter a growing field while earning a median salary of about $76,000 per year, according to BLS numbers from May 2020.

With a workforce in the millions, the financial activities field lost only 3% of its workers between March and April of 2020 — much less than the typical industry. In April 2020, the unemployment rate in this area climbed to 5.4%, but this decreased to just 2.7% by April 2021.

Finance Career Paths

Education

The day-to-day work of many educators continues to look considerably different today than in pre-pandemic times, but education professionals in various settings quickly pivoted to ensure students received the best possible experience. The pandemic also highlighted the inherent advantages of online degree programs. Prospective students interested in the field of education have many opportunities to secure their teaching degree online.

Between March and April of 2020, the number of workers employed in educational services was reduced by about 12%. Fortunately, this field has slowly recovered and should continue to do so as schools reopen. Education professionals typically make salaries that are well above the national average for all occupations. For example, BLS data shows that high school teachers earn a median annual salary of about $63,000 (as of May 2020).

Education Career Paths

5 Degrees Most Impacted by the Pandemic

While some fields persevered under the pandemic's weight, others struggled mightily. Public-facing roles in particular saw significant losses. With lockdowns, isolation, and social distancing becoming the norm, many jobs requiring face-to-face contact seemingly vanished.

For example, the restaurant industry fell short of financial projections in 2020 by about $240 billion, with more than 110,000 restaurants shutting their doors. Additionally, leisure and hospitality jobs saw one of the highest unemployment rates at 39.3%. Read on to learn more about degrees and careers that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.


Visual and Performing Arts | Hospitality | Food Services | Dentistry | History


Visual and Performing Arts

Like many areas of the economy, performing arts and spectator sports took a severe hit during the pandemic. Between March and April 2020, this industry saw job losses approaching almost 44%. Additionally, the motion picture and sound recording industry lost more than half its workforce early in the pandemic.

More than a year later, these industries still have a long way to go to get back to pre-pandemic employment numbers. According to the BLS, performing artists earned an average salary of $62,770 as of May 2020.

Visual and Performing Arts Career Paths

Hospitality

The hospitality industry took on serious financial and job losses during the pandemic. As hotels and resorts went from full to empty seemingly overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed cracks in the resilience of a typically profitable industry.

As an example, between March and April 2020, accommodation services lost over 41% of its workforce. While the industry has slowly recovered in recent months, as of April 2021, the field is still down more than 500,000 positions compared to pre-pandemic employment.

The industry should continue to slowly rebound, and degrees like hospitality management should regain much of their value. This field can be fairly lucrative. For example, lodging managers earned a median salary of over $56,000 per year as of May 2020.

Hospitality Career Paths

Food Services

Like most public-facing industries, food services took a severe hit at the beginning of the pandemic. While restaurants attempted to pivot, embracing takeout and delivery options, both front- and back-of-house positions saw significant losses.

Employing almost 12 million people in March 2020, the industry experienced a loss of more than 46% of its jobs between March and April of that year.

Following early pandemic losses, food service employment has steadily recovered. Even though the industry has yet to meet pre-pandemic employment numbers, millions of workers have returned to kitchens and dining rooms over the last several months. Food services workers who climb the ladder at a restaurant can make a decent salary; chefs and head cooks earned a median salary of over $53,000 per year as of May 2020.

Food Services Career Paths

Dentistry

Of all the sectors within the healthcare industry, the dentistry field was hit the hardest by the pandemic. As a matter of practicality early on in the pandemic, healthcare as an overall field shifted focus away from elective procedures to ensure adequate staffing and space for coronavirus patients. As most dental work is elective and requires intimately close quarters between dental patients and workers, dental jobs declined dramatically.

Considering that nearly nine out of 10 dentist offices reported staffing cuts during the first months of the pandemic, it's no surprise that dentistry-related jobs contracted significantly — by more than 52% between March and April of 2020. These dramatic job losses were much higher than the healthcare field overall, which saw jobs decrease by about 9% over this time.

Even though dental careers, like many professions, aren't immune to the effects of a pandemic, dentists provide what many consider an essential healthcare service (under normal circumstances). When not in the midst of a pandemic, dentistry school grads enter an in-demand field, and dentists earned a median salary exceeding $164,000 annually as of May 2020.

Dentistry Career Paths

History

Categorized under the banner of the hard-hit leisure and hospitality industry, museums, historical sites, and similar institutions saw their workforce shrink by over 25% between March and April 2020. Most of these jobs have yet to return.

While public-facing history jobs were hard hit, it's worth noting that some history-related careers were more able to weather the waves of unemployment brought on by COVID-19. Teaching, writing, and government jobs — which employ many history grads — can be adapted to accommodate social distancing and working from home.

Even though many history jobs took a significant hit during the pandemic, the BLS projects that archivists, curators, and museum workers should see their field expand by 11% between 2019-2029. These professionals earned a median salary of about $52,000 annually as of May 2020.

History Career Paths

Choosing the Right Degree for You

Although it's worthwhile to consider future job options and earning potential when weighing academic options, you should also think about your talents and interests when choosing a college major. While some degrees may prepare you for more pandemic-proof careers than others, earning any postsecondary degree can lead to increased job opportunities and higher wages, regardless of your major.


Feature Image: LeoPatrizi / E+ / Getty Images

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