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Healthcare staffing and wage growth lags behind other industries

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | March 10, 2022
Business Affairs
Employment and wage growth dipped in healthcare more than other industries in 2020 and 2021
Healthcare workers saw wage rates and employment dip more than other industries during the pandemic throughout 2020 and the first six months of 2021.

Despite being tasked with the challenging job of caring for COVID-19 patients, employment for U.S. healthcare staff dropped by 5.2% in 2020, said researchers at Indiana University, nonprofit Rand Corporation and the University of Michigan.

Wages also increased at a lower rate for healthcare compared to the national average across all sectors. "While federal programs provided financial assistance to hospitals and institutions, it is important to focus on the effect of the pandemic on healthcare employment levels and wages, especially if we want to prevent such shortages in the future," said Christopher Whaley, a policy researcher at the Rand Corporation and co-author of the study, in a statement.

The study relied on industry and county-level data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The information covered 95% of all U.S. jobs in 2020 and the first six months of 2021 at physician offices, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home healthcare facilities, dental offices and other healthcare settings. Employment in these sectors together dropped from 22.2 million in 2019 to 21.1 million by mid-2020. Declines varied depending on the type of organization, with the largest taking place in dental offices at 10%, and skilled nursing facilities at 8.4%.

Decreases rose in skilled nursing facilities to 13.6% in 2021 from 2019, despite employment levels in most other healthcare sectors rebounding to pre-COVID levels. But the authors say this was to be expected, given the greater frustration and burnout rates associated with the pandemic in these environments.

Wages, meanwhile, only increased by 5%, below the 6.7% rise in the national average in 2020. And it only went up 1.5% in 2021 versus 6.9%.

Despite the media covering employment declines in healthcare, comparisons in complete national employment and wages have not been well documented and are what motivated the authors to conduct their study, said co-author Kosali Simon, distinguished professor and Herman B. Wells endowed professor in the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Bloomington. "These findings provide a data-driven picture of employment levels by various healthcare settings, and can help guide decision-making not only around the current healthcare shortage but also during a future crisis."

The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Health Forum.

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