Healthcare's trap of overqualified workers

The post-pandemic labor force has 1.5 million fewer individuals with some post-secondary education short of a bachelor's degree. This shortfall is hitting healthcare hardest, affecting wages and qualification levels among jobholders. 

Job vacancies requiring a post-secondary certificate or associate degree, particularly in healthcare, remain high. The mismatch between the supply of workers with this education level and the ongoing demand for them is leading to increased wages and greater reliance on more educated workers, according to a December 2023 bulletin from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. 

Five takeaways from the bank's report: 

1. Before the pandemic, job openings across educational groups moved together and subsequently peaked together in mid-2022. Since then, while vacancies for most groups have fallen, the number of job vacancies requiring some college education remains 60% above its pre-pandemic level. 

2. Vacancies for jobs requiring some college education are concentrated in healthcare. As of August 2023, about 50% of all open jobs posted in 2023 that required an associate degree or non-degree certificate were in healthcare.  

3. As a result of the high demand, healthcare employers are turning to more educated workers to fill positions with requirements for some college education. Healthcare employment among workers with some college education has dropped by about 400,000 since 2019; healthcare employment among workers with a bachelor's degree or more has increased by 600,000.

4. Combined, these factors can place upward pressure on healthcare wages. The supply-demand mismatch can lead employers to offer higher wages to competitively attract qualified workers. Employers turning to workers with more education, who are generally more expensive, will increase the average wage in these occupations.

5. From 2019 to 2023, overall wages for healthcare workers rose by nearly 25%, an increase the bank partially attributes to both increased wages within educational groups and composition effects. The shift in employment toward higher-educated workers accounts for an additional 2.7 percentage points of the total wage increase, for instance. 

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