Healthcare still hot in a cooling labor market: 7 things to know

The U.S. has avoided a recession so far, in part due to a robust healthcare job market, The Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 26.

Seven things to know:

1. Overall, the U.S. added 150,000 jobs in October, largely driven by healthcare, government, and leisure and hospitality, according to the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Healthcare specifically added 58,000 jobs last month, in line with the average monthly gain of 53,000 over the prior 12 months. In October, employment continued to trend up in ambulatory healthcare services (32,000), hospitals (18,000), and nursing and residential care facilities (8,000).

2. In the six months through October, healthcare providers — including hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and physician offices — accounted for 30% of the nation's job gains, according to data from the Labor Department. This is less than 11% of the country's total employment and comes as job growth is slowing in other fields.

3. Data cited by The Wall Street Journal also shows that healthcare payrolls rose at a 4.2% annualized rate in the three months through October, compared with a 1.3% rate during that period for employment outside of healthcare. 

4. "As behavior returns to normal — as kids go back to germ-factory indoor play spaces and daycare centers, and as people schedule elective procedures and catch up on routine scans delayed during the height of the pandemic — providers are having to staff up to keep up with demand," Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, told The Wall Street Journal.

5. Some large systems, including Renton, Wash.-based Providence, have recently reported record years for hiring. At Providence, 33,000 positions had been filled this year as of September, about 19,000 of which were filled by external candidates. This represents a 15% increase in total fills and a 23% increase in external hires compared with 2022. Providence has also seen close to a 20% increase in retention. "These factors, working together, have led to some of our lowest vacancy rates, though some units and clinics remain understaffed," spokesperson Melissa Tizon told Becker's in September. "We're aiming to continue improving, so we can decrease caregiver burnout and ensure every unit and clinic has the capacity to serve our communities as fully as possible."

6. As healthcare hiring is booming, hospitals and health systems continue to face challenges related to recruiting and retaining workers. Workers in recent years have exited their organizations, or considered quitting, citing reasons such as not feeling valued, lack of support for their well-being and wages not keeping up with inflation. Older healthcare providers have also retired, affecting shortages. Additionally, demands for more staffing have often been a key component in unionized healthcare workers' decisions to go on strike and take other labor actions.

7. While U.S. economic growth could slow further in coming months, economists predict healthcare could see strong job gains for years to come and bolster chances of preventing a greater downturn, according to The Wall Street Journal

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