April jobs report lackluster for healthcare, with ambulatory gains offsetting steep nursing losses

Dive Brief:

  • Healthcare lost about 4,000 jobs overall in April, an unwelcome sign as the economy continues recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nursing home losses (-19,000) were offset by notable gains (+21,000) in ambulatory service jobs.
  • In March, healthcare employment changed little. The industry is still down 542,000 jobs since February 2020.
  • Job gains overall fell short of expectations as economists predicted vaccinations and reopenings would help spur the growth of about a million new jobs in April. The overall unemployment rate remained about the same, at 6.1%.

Dive Insight:

The healthcare industry is struggling to get back on track following months of sustained job losses during the pandemic. While BLS expects most of the jobs will recover, unlike some other industries such as retail and restaurants, it’s unclear how long it will take.

Some sectors are recovering more smoothly than others, including ambulatory service jobs which have posted consistent gains over the past few months. Nursing home jobs are still posting deep, consistent losses. And hospital jobs remained about the same in April.

The unemployment rate for men changed little at 6.1%, and is now hovering around 5.6% for women.

A major chunk of healthcare jobs are held by women. Registered nurses make up the largest chunk of the healthcare workforce with over 2.4 million workers, and are followed by others in nursing, psychiatric and home healthcare roles, according to a 2019 report from the Census Bureau. Among those workers, 85% are women.

Almost a quarter of nurses say they might leave their current job within the year, citing insufficient staffing, workload and acute emotional toll, according to a McKinsey survey published Thursday. That percentage grew among women and nurses in long-term care settings.

Nearly 80% of registered nurses said the pandemic strained staffing in their unit to “unsafe levels,” according to another recent survey from the American Association of International Healthcare Recruitment.

And another report from the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Washington Post found that 60% of front-line healthcare workers say the pandemic negatively impacted their mental health. Many said they aren’t getting needed support and expressed mixed feelings about their job moving forward, boding ill for hopes of near-term staffing recovery in the sector.