Healthcare sector lost stunning 1.4M jobs in April

Dive Brief:

  • The healthcare sector shed more than 1.4 million jobs in April according to data from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics a stunning reversal after years of consistent gains. It represented about 7% of the nation’s total job losses last month. The industry’s overall unemployment rate more than tripled between March and April.
  • The bulk of lost healthcare jobs are in ambulatory services, which lost more than 1 million jobs in April, presumably due to the widespread cancellation of elective procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Physician offices were also hard hit, losing more than 243,000 jobs, although that segment fared far better than dental offices, which lost more than half a million jobs. The insurance sector fared much better in comparison.

Dive Insight:

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the U.S. economy was set out in stark unemployment figures from the federal government Friday. In March, the nationwide unemployment rate was 4.4%. By April, it skyrocketed to 14.7% the largest month-over-month increase in U.S. history and the highest rate since 1940, when the nation emerged from the Great Depression.

Healthcare and hospital jobs have been one of the stoutest drivers of the U.S. economy since the Great Recession. That segment created some 2.9 million jobs between January 2010 and this February, when the job count topped 16.5 million. As of April, that declined to just over 15 million jobs, the lowest number since June 2015. The unemployment rate for the education/healthcare services sector (which the BLS counts together) was 3.2% in March. It was 10.9% in April, more than triple the rate the month before.

Ambulatory healthcare services bled the most jobs, dropping to 6.62 million from 7.8 million employed. That’s a loss of 1.18 million jobs, or a 15% drop.

Hospitals, the second-largest employer in the healthcare sector, lost 134,900 jobs last month, from 5.26 million to 5.13 million, a total drop of 2.6%.

Hospitals are dealing with broad financial struggles after cancelling lucrative elective procedures to save resources for COVID-19 patients. Staffers typically involved in those services, as well as administrative employees, have in some cases been furloughed or taken pay cuts as a result.

Physician offices shed 243,300 jobs, about a 9% drop. Frontline primary care practitioners have been voicing concern in recent weeks about the long-term survival of their practices. The offices of other healthcare practitioners lost 205,100 jobs, down 20.9%.

Nursing and residential care facilities lost a combined 113,100 jobs. Home healthcare services lost 93,600 jobs. Outpatient treatment facilities lost 87,900 jobs.

But comparatively speaking, those niches all did well compared to the practices of dentists. Dental offices took by far the biggest wallop by percentage of jobs lost. Its employment dropped to 456,000 from 959,300 in March. That’s a loss of 503,300 jobs — a stunning drop of 52%.

Overall, the U.S. economy lost 20.5 million non-farm jobs in April. Presumably, many of those now unemployed people will lose their job-based health coverage as well. That will potentially put even more pressure on cash-strapped providers as they reopen their doors and look to jumpstart their cash flow again.

Meanwhile, healthcare payers have fared quite well. The insurance sector as a whole (the BLS does not break out specific segments) lost only 4,400 jobs last month. That’s out of a total workforce of more than 2.8 million.

Nevertheless, both payers and providers have urged Congress to take further action to protect their businesses.