Feb 23, 2024 - Health

Health care employment picture still strong

Illustration of a cup of tea at a computer desk with a red cross for the teabag

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Job openings in health care and social services last year hit the second highest rate since data began to be collected in 2001, and the employment picture remained strong in January, especially in ambulatory care settings and hospitals.

Why it matters: The findings from Altarum reinforce just how much the health industry is fueling a robust labor market, even as it's beset by churn and high levels of worker burnout.

What they found: In 2023, the job openings rate — or number of openings divided by total employment plus job openings — stood at 7.6% in health care and social assistance.

  • Hospitals' rebounding fortunes and the push to administer more care in outpatient settings spilled into the new year: January's health care job growth was led by growth in ambulatory care settings, which added 33,400 jobs, and hospitals, which added 20,400 jobs.
  • But there were signs that wage growth lagged other sectors. Health care wage growth in December stood at 2.9% year over year, compared with 4.5% in non-health care industries.
  • The wage growth was highest in nursing and residential care, which have suffered some of the bigger churn since the pandemic.

Flashback: Health care jobs expanded by 3.9% in 2023, higher than the 1.5% growth rate across all other industries, according to Altarum.

  • The sector accounted for almost a quarter of all new jobs in the U.S., adding 654,000 last year.
  • And yet the openings rate remained stubbornly high — reflecting increased consumer demand and the lagging effect of patients catching up on care deferred during the pandemic.

What we're watching: How much health care inflation inches up, as demand for services drives spending increases.

  • Altarum found that in January for major health care categories, prices for nursing home care (4.9%) and dental care (4.8%) were the fastest growing, while prescription drug price growth was the slowest (0.4%).
  • Prices for physician services increased 1.3% in January, slower than overall health care inflation, but is the fastest rate seen since January 2022.
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