Healthcare Job Market Shields U.S. from Recession, Despite Persistent Challenges

Updated on December 5, 2023
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Amid concerns of an impending economic slump, the United States has staved off a recession, partially buoyed by a robust healthcare job market, The Wall Street Journal reported on November 26. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy added 150,000 jobs in October. A significant portion of this growth has been fuelled by healthcare, government, and leisure and hospitality sectors. The healthcare industry alone contributed 58,000 jobs, consistent with its average monthly increase of 53,000 over the past year.

Particularly, ambulatory healthcare services, hospitals, and nursing and residential care facilities observed upticks in employment, adding 32,000, 18,000, and 8,000 jobs, respectively. “As behavior returns to normal — as kids go back to germ-factory indoor play spaces and daycare centers, and as people schedule elective procedures and catch up on routine scans delayed during the height of the pandemic — providers are having to staff up to keep up with demand,” explained Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, illuminating the hiring spree.

The Wall Street Journal cited Labor Department data, revealing that in the semiannual period leading up to October, healthcare jobs, representing a less significant 11% of the total U.S. employment, impressively accounted for 30% of the nation’s job gains. This trend is noteworthy given the slump in job growth experienced by other sectors. The exponential rise in healthcare hiring is particularly stark in comparison to payroll growth outside the healthcare sector, which increased at a slower annualized rate of 1.3% in the three months through October.

Facing a worker deficit, large healthcare systems have aggressively expanded their workforce. In a noteworthy instance, Renton, Washington-based Providence reported a record year for hiring. According to spokesperson Melissa Tizon, Providence filled roughly 33,000 positions this year by September, including 19,000 by external candidates, marking a considerable increase compared with the previous year. Tizon also highlighted the progress in retention rates which have climbed by nearly 20%.

Despite this optimism, the healthcare sector is not without its challenges. The industry is encountering difficulties in recruitment and retention, with workers leaving or contemplating exit strategies for various reasons, including wage concerns, feeling undervalued, and inadequate support for their well-being. Alongside, the demographic shift with an aging population and the lingering effects of the pandemic continue to intensify labor demands, which have often emerged as central issues during labor strikes and other workforce actions.

Economists maintain a cautious outlook for the U.S. economy, predicting that healthcare’s robust job market could serve as a bulwark against a potential downturn. “Healthcare could serve as a strong job generator for years to come,” indicate WSJ economics reporters Gwynn Guilford and Gabriel Rubin. This sentiment is echoed by Loyola Marymount’s economist Sung Won Sohn, who associates the strength of the healthcare sector with the nation’s ability to avoid a recession.

Analysts such as BlackRock’s chief investment officer for global fixed income, Rick Rieder, agree that the healthcare worker shortage will continue to bolster employment numbers. However, long-term prosperity hinges on the influx of dedicated healthcare professionals. Labor economist Noah Yosif with UKG projects the necessity for healthcare careers to align with the projected ten-year demand. The shortage in healthcare professionals is not simply a momentary challenge but a long-standing issue that needs to be tackled with sustainable solutions.

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