The health care industry gained 60,100 jobs in September and the overall unemployment rate in the United States dropped by 0.2 percentage points, returning to pre-pandemic levels from February 2020, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The 60,100 jobs gained by the health care industry in September accounted for more than a fifth of all jobs gained in the U.S. economy during that time, according to BLS.
Within the health care industry, ambulatory care saw the largest job increases with 28,100 jobs added in September, followed by hospitals, which added 27,500 jobs.
Meanwhile, nursing and residential care facilities gained just 4,500 jobs in September, while physician offices gained 10,200 jobs.
Matt Wolf, director and health care senior analyst at consulting firm RSM US, said that while the jobs numbers for the health care sector are "a pleasant surprise," he noted that health care expenditures have increased 10% within the last two years, meaning "[w]e still have a much higher demand, still have about 10,000 Americans becoming eligible for Medicare every day, and we're just now back to the pre-pandemic level of employment."
"We're going to have to find new ways to leverage technology, automation, analytics, different clinical workflows, different ways of approaching healthcare in general in order to meet the demand," Wolf said. "We just won't be able to hire enough doctors and enough nurses and enough administrators to solve health care problems in the way that we did prior to the pandemic. Demand is increasing much faster than the supply of labor."
According to Wolf, a large portion of the challenge faced by the nursing and residential care facility sectors has been competition from other industries that have increased wages in the past few years.
"We have a lot of other employers outside of health care—retailers, food service—that are paying $19 an hour and offering additional benefits," Wolf said. "A lot of the caregivers in senior care said 'Well, I can go and make similar money working outside of this industry,' and for many of them the work is much better—they're restocking shelves, not changing colostomy bags."
However, hospitals and ambulatory settings haven't been as affected by the rising wage floor in other industries, as positions in those settings already came with higher wages, Wolf added. Although administrative workers in those environments could be impacted.
"On the administrative side we've seen that the competition isn’t so much in what they're paying, but [if] there's flexibility," he said. Specifically, other industries have allowed administrative workers to work from home, Wolf said.
"We've, anecdotally, worked with a lot of clients and systems where, as they emerged from the pandemic, they told their IT people or their rev cycle people or whomever 'Okay, we're now going back into the office five days a week,'" he said. "Those functions just said no and went and worked in other industries. That's challenging for health care systems to navigate well. Many providers are doing it well, and many have things to learn yet about managing a hybrid workforce." (Muoio, Fierce Healthcare, 10/7; AHA News, 10/7; Lane, The Hill, 10/7; Gooch, Becker's Hospital Review, 10/7)
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