You Can Thank the Health Care Industry for the Economic Recovery

Margot Sanger-Katz
National Journal

Happy about the country’s shrinking unemployment rate? You have the health care industry to thank.

Since the recession hit in late 2007, a huge proportion of the new jobs have been in the health sector—hospitals, doctors’ offices and nursing homes. All along, those jobs have been rising at a steady clip, while jobs in all other sectors have seen more dismal performance.Take a look at this chart, which shows the wide gulf between health care jobs and everything else:


If health care jobs had just held steady, the unemployment rate would be a full point higher. If they had taken a dive with the rest of the economy, the current unemployment rate would be 10.8 percent, according to an analysis from the Altarum Institute, which track health employment trends.

Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report showed the trend continuing. New health care jobs made up 14.6 percent of the total jobs added, and were among the top contributors to the overall gain in employment.

Health care jobs are across the income spectrum, including low-paid hospital janitors and highly paid doctors and executives. But many are the kind of middle class jobs with benefits and opportunities for advancement that are disappearing from other sectors. Factory work is on the decline, but nursing jobs are on the rise.

The American Hospital Association put out a big report last week, touting its members roles as local economic engines. But there’s a limit to how much we can rely on the health sector to prop up our economy.

I examine the tradoffs in this week's National Journal magazine, available free.