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Healthcare Job Growth Set Records in 2015

 |  By John Commins  
   January 12, 2016

Healthcare jobs accounted for 18% of the 2.6 million new jobs created in the United States in 2015. Coincidentally, healthcare spending represents nearly 18% of the nation's gross domestic product.

Hospital job growth exploded in 2015, with 172,200 payroll additions reported, a 306% increase over the 42,400 jobs created in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Overall, the healthcare sector reported record job growth in 2015, with 474,700 jobs created, which represents a 53% increase over the 309,000 healthcare jobs created in 2014.

Ambulatory services continued to lead the way in terms of overall number of jobs created within the healthcare sector, with 258,000 new jobs in 2015, a healthy but relatively modest 12% increase over the 230,000 ambulatory services jobs created in 2014, BLS data show.

Healthcare jobs accounted for 18% of the 2.6 million new jobs created in the United States in 2015. Coincidentally, healthcare spending represents nearly 18% of the nation's gross domestic product.

Christopher DeCarlo, an economist with the BLS, says the job growth "is really not an overly complicated story. It's just supply and demand."


Peter Ubel

"What you would probably find is that the increased costs and increased labor costs are closely tied to wages and benefits," DeCarlo says. "Ultimately what you probably have is more people coming into the healthcare sector as a result of the higher wages and net growth, particularly with the increasing the number of retirees."

The healthcare sector now accounts for 15.3 million jobs, including seven million in ambulatory services, and nearly five million in hospitals.

Good News, Bad News
The growth in healthcare jobs presents a double-edged sword for a nation that already spends close to 20 cents of every dollar on healthcare, far more than any other advanced industrialized nation.

Peter Ubel, professor of business, public policy and medicine at Duke University, says whether the hiring trend is good news or bad is a matter of perspective.

"If you're in the healthcare industry it's good news, but for the rest of the country it's a little bit disturbing," Ubel says.

Healthcare jobs are created in virtually every part of the United States. These are generally well-paying jobs with salaries that percolate throughout the communities and regions served by physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers. At the same time, every dollar spent on healthcare is a dollar that can't be spent on other pressing needs.

"The growth in healthcare jobs is a sign that that part of our economy is growing larger than we can handle, and while it is great for everyone who has those jobs, paying for healthcare shifts tax dollars or it comes out of healthcare premiums, which come from our salaries, and so that's not good news. It's not just the government that is paying for healthcare. About half of healthcare spending is non-governmental, so it is coming out of paychecks and it's money that we could be spending on other things or that we could be saving for retirement."

Nicole Smith, chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, says few sectors of the economy can match healthcare when it comes to long-term job growth.

"For this long and this many jobs the only thing close is education," Smith says. "The two sectors have a very peculiar commonality. They are also two of the least-productive sectors of the economy. If we define productivity as gross output per person employed, and we view both of these sectors as requiring heavy human input… we have this dubious correlation between the lower productivity levels of these two sectors that are also growing fast in terms of jobs created."

The low productivity may be a function of the work required of healthcare providers and educators. "They work with people and people don't necessarily move like machines," Smith says. "It means you don't necessarily get the economies of scale and outputs in a generic fashion in the way you can with models for producing things and products."

"We have created a very complex system of healthcare provision that is still inefficient, and that is still costly, but it is a function that is highly determined by demographics."

Smith cautions that one of the fastest job growth areas within healthcare is for nursing aides and other relatively low-paying fields. "It's less wages, less opportunity, less upward mobility. It's difficult to move from being a nurse's aide to becoming a nurse," she says.

"We don't want to create these end-of-the-road healthcare support jobs if they're a dead-end for some people. We want to make sure that pathways are developed so they can move forward."

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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