Healthcare employment steadily rebounding though hospitals left out

Dive Brief:

  • Healthcare employment is rebounding from the job losses created by COVID-19, but the overall numbers still trail pre-pandemic levels, according to new data released by the Altarum Institute. Overall sector employment at the end of the first quarter of 2021 was down by 44,000 compared to the end of last year.
  • Hospital employment has sunk for three consecutive months, according to the Altarum data, and is down 37,000 jobs since the end of last year. Also down are jobs in nursing and long-term care facilities. By contrast, jobs in ambulatory care were up significantly. But overall, healthcare jobs are down by more than 500,000 compared to the peak in February of last year.
  • Meanwhile, national healthcare spending was flat compared to last year. Healthcare prices grew modestly during that same period, according to Altarum.

Dive Insight:

Healthcare has been considered a bulletproof sector when it comes to employment for the better part of a decade. But the COVID-19 crisis not only stopped that growth in its tracks but sent it in reverse. The sector shed 80,500 jobs in January, part of a significant downward spiral that began during the first quarter of last year.

Altogether, 15.9 million Americans held jobs in the healthcare sector last month. That compares to 16.4 million healthcare jobs in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the U.S. That represents a net loss of 557,000 jobs, or 7% of the 8.4 million jobs lost due to the outbreak.

Hospitals have shed the most jobs in recent months, down 37,000 since the end of 2020, although the sector lost only 600 jobs in March. Hospital employment is down by 100,000 jobs since February 2020, a drop of 1.8%.

By contrast, ambulatory care facilities added 31,000 jobs in the first quarter of this year, including 15,300 positions last month. However, that category is down by 144,000 jobs since February 2020. Nursing homes added a much more modest 1,700 jobs during the quarter. But positions at residential care facilities dropped by 38,000 jobs during the quarter and 313,000 jobs since February 2020 — an overall decrease of nearly 9%.

Dental office jobs have actually experienced an increase since the pandemic, totaling 992,000 at the end of the first quarter — compared to 991,000 in February 2020. But jobs in physician offices are down 54,000 from a year ago, while jobs in other medical offices are down by 40,000. Jobs at outpatient care centers are down by 5,000 compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Meanwhile, Altarum reported that healthcare spending is on pace to total $3.93 trillion this year, compared to $3.94 trillion in February 2020, down 0.3% compared to last year. It also concluded that prices are on pace to rise 2.5% this year, compared to 2.1% in March 2020 and 1.3% in March 2019.