Job growth in the healthcare profession seems to be virtually recession-proof. In Florida, a state with a sizeable percentage of senior citizens, there are about 960,000 healthcare and social assistance jobs, approximately 13 percent of all nonfarm payroll positions in the state.
Some experts are not as optimistic about job growth in the healthcare sector. “Reform may accelerate the trend toward healthcare’s being the dominant employment sector in the economy,” according to a recent New England Journal of Medicine (now known as NEJM) article. A significant amount of the growth in healthcare that result from reform might be in support positions, rather than physicians and nurses, several economists said. “As for jobs for health professionals, I doubt that this will or can increase the number of doctors or nurses. While there will be greater demand for their services, there will also be offsetting effects as medically unnecessarily procedures are paid less,” said Amitabh Chandra, an economist and public-policy professor at Harvard University.
As the insured population grows under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), healthcare workers will be in high demand. These gains come on the heels of growth already required to serve an aging population. In Florida, the aging population’s impact on healthcare employment is more dramatic than in the rest of the country: about 17 percent of the state’s population is older than 65, compared with a 13 percent average in the other states., according to the Census Bureau.
Other experts are far more sanguine about healthcare’s ability to create jobs. “The big places we waste money is patients who are discharged and there’s not a lot of follow up and they end up in the hospital a month later,” said Leemore Dafny, an economist at Northwestern University whose expertise is competition in healthcare markets. According to Dafny, reform will create new primary-care physicians and physician “extenders,” such as nurse practitioners; at the same time, it could decelerate growth in spending on medical specialists. “If the ACA is repealed, it will be business as usual — except that more of the population is now uninsured — so the demand for primary-care professionals will increase much more slowly,” said Dafny.
In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the healthcare sector for some time has provided about the only bright spot in an otherwise drab report on job growth. Healthcare employment created 205,100 new jobs in the first eight months of 2011. Approximately 14.1 million people are employed in the healthcare sector with more than 4.7 million jobs at hospitals; more than 6.1 million jobs in ambulatory services; and more than 2.3 million jobs in physicians’ offices, according to BLS statistics.
According to Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Mark Pinsky, president and CEO of the Opportunity Finance Network, “The current economic recovery effort presents an opportunity to build stronger, healthier communities. That’s a central goal, for example, of the Create Jobs for USA Fund that the OFN and Starbucks launched late last year to support job creation and retention. Economic growth and job creation provide more than income and the ability to afford health insurance and medical care. They also enable us to live in safer homes and neighborhoods, buy healthier food, have more leisure time for physical activity, and experience less health-harming stress. The research clearly shows that health starts in our homes and communities and not in the doctor’s office. In that way, economic policy is, in fact, health policy. The end goal? Create and sustain job growth across the country. Improve communities. Improve health. Give people the opportunities to make smart, healthy decisions so that they can act in the best interests of their communities, themselves, and future generations.”
Healthcare added 17,200 jobs in November of 2011, an increase over the 11,600 jobs reported in October, according to BLS data. Healthcare accounted for 14.3 percent of 120,000 new jobs created across all sectors in November. On the whole, healthcare represented 24 percent of the 1.2 million non-farm jobs created this year and is expected to create 321,000 new jobs by year’s end. That represents a 22 percent increase over the 263,400 healthcare jobs created in 2011.