When the gloomy May jobs report came out last week, the stock market lost all of its gains for 2012. But all the news in the report is not bad. According to an analysis by the Altarum Institute, healthcare jobs continue to grow, continuing a trend since the recession began.
In May, healthcare employment rose by 33,000 jobs, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most of the growth (23,000 jobs) was found in the ambulatory care setting, which includes hospital outpatient services. Hospital inpatient services also added jobs. All told, healthcare workers now comprise 10.8 percent of the total employment picture, an all-time high.
A recent essay in the New England Journal of Medicine questions whether this job growth is a good thing. The authors ask whether more healthcare jobs fuel an inefficient healthcare system that could operate just as well with fewer people. It’s an interesting point – but one I disagree with. While some of the new jobs are in hospitals, most are in community-based settings. That signals a shift in the deployment of healthcare resources and it reflects systemic efforts nationwide to make healthcare delivery more efficient and sustainable. And this is happening at the same time that our population is aging, with 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 each day in the United States. There’s no question that we need healthcare professionals to take care of the growing needs of this aging population.
New Jersey hospitals employ 140,000 individuals. Add in all of the other healthcare settings – like nursing homes, ambulatory care centers, home health and others – and healthcare ranks as the state’s second largest employer. From NJHA’s point of view, we appreciate that Gov. Christie recognizes this vital role of hospitals and healthcare by proposing a 2013 state budget that preserves current hospital funding levels and increases nursing home funding by $10 million. In addition, the Governor has spared New Jersey’s Medicaid program from cuts, which has been a target in some other states. That’s important, obviously, for access to healthcare services but it’s also very important for the New Jersey economy. Cuts to critical state funding streams translate to cuts in staffing.
I anxiously await the first federal jobs report that comes out after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act; that ruling is expected by the end of the month. As we’ve seen throughout this recession, healthcare and jobs go hand in hand. And any decision that greatly alters the future of healthcare will undoubtedly have a monumental impact on some of these trends.