Forecast 2009: Your job

The prediction: Unemployment will rise, peaking in the second half of 2009.

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By Donna Rosato, Money Magazine senior writer

Your income
Pay raises will be small next year...
Average 2009 raise
...unless you're a top performer...
Average raise for top performers
...and they'll remain strong if you work in a healthy industry.
Oil and gas
Business process outsourcing
Business/professional services
Note: Numbers for 2009 are projections.
CDs & Money Market
MMA 0.69%
$10K MMA 0.42%
6 month CD 0.94%
1 yr CD 1.49%
5 yr CD 1.93%

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(Money Magazine) -- Recessions bring layoffs. This we know. Economists predict that the current unemployment rate of 6.5%, already the highest since 1994, will max out at 7% or 8% by the end of 2009. The nation hasn't seen levels like those in nearly two decades.

The picture looks bad, no question. But on the bright side, a mid-October survey of major employers by benefits consultant Mercer found that just 37% of companies are considering or planning cutbacks in 2009.

That's partly because after the 2001 recession, companies in many industries never returned to their late-'90s staffing levels. A lot of them may still be lean enough to avoid major layoffs, though they may freeze hiring or wages.

Talkback: What's your forecast?

You're most vulnerable to a pink slip if you work in a manufacturing or service business tied directly to consumer spending, such as autos, construction, retail, financial services, travel or restaurants.

If you work for your state or local government, which likely faces big budget cuts as tax revenue shrinks, you'll also be at greater risk.

You can breathe more easily if you work in health care (people need to see the doctor even in a recession), secondary education (downturns typically send more people back to school) or businesses that focus on defense or homeland security.

And if you're in any job that generates revenue for your employer, such as sales, you're less likely to get canned.

The wild card
  • The length of the recession

The unemployment rate generally doesn't fall until after GDP turns positive again. When the last recession ended in November 2001, the rate didn't peak for 19 months. So if this recession lingers longer than currently expected, unemployment might not peak until 2011.

The action plan
  • Check your emergency fund

In 2009 it will be especially important to have enough cash on hand to cover at least six months of expenses - probably enough to tide you over if you lose your job. (The typical employment search now takes 4.4 months, up from 3.1 months in early 2008, according to outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. Senior positions can take longer.)

Your stash falls short? Build it up while you've still got a job.

  • Raise your profile

The best way to avoid a pink slip is to do your job well and make sure your boss - and her boss - knows about it. Volunteer for assignments and take on additional duties if there have been cutbacks. Ask your boss for regular feedback about your performance.

  • Beef up your skills

Adding education credentials or job-specific training can make you more valuable, says Paul Rowson, general manager at WorldatWork, an association of HR professionals.

Think about what skills you can add to make yourself more marketable, and don't forget to take advantage of any tuition discounts that your employer may offer.

  • Start looking around

Even if you love your job, it's smart to have a Plan B. Update your résumé and start investigating potential opportunities by talking to recruiters and other people in your industry.

"The more you're known, the more opportunities you'll have," points out Steve Gross, a partner at Mercer. Then if the ax does fall, you won't be starting a job search from scratch. To top of page

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