Study suggests tightening labor market for nurses

Nurse employment remained low while wages increased during the first 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting a tightening labor market in which demand outpaced supply, according to a study published Jan. 4 in Health Affairs.

To determine how the healthcare workforce has been affected by the pandemic, Peter Buerhaus, PhD, BSN, of Montana State University and co-authors examined aggregate data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for February 2020 through June 2021. Researchers also examined monthly data from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey between January 2011 and June 2021 to determine how overall healthcare employment trends have affected nurses.

Five findings:

1. There were unprecedented declines in healthcare employment in the early months of the pandemic, according to researchers. By April 2020, healthcare employment had declined most intensely in physician offices (11 percent), outpatient care centers (8 percent) and home healthcare (7 percent). Hospital employment had declined 2 percent, which researchers said was partly because of an influx of COVID-19 patients and other patients whose care could not be delayed. 

2. According to the study authors, employment in most healthcare settings gradually returned toward pre-pandemic levels in 2020, except in nursing homes, where the decline continued, and total employment was 13.2 percent lower in June 2021 than in February 2020 in that setting.

3. From April 2020 to June 2021, total employment decreased 20 percent for licensed practical or vocational nurses, 10 percent for nursing aides or assistants and 1 percent for registered nurses, compared with the five quarters before the pandemic (October 2018-December 2019), according to the study authors.

4. Additionally, researchers found higher unemployment rates among registered nurses and nursing assistants who are part of racial and ethnic minority groups.

5. From April 2020 to June 2021, earnings increased by 9.4 percent for licensed practical or vocational nurses and 5.7 percent for nursing aides or assistants, according to the study. Earnings increased by 2 percent for registered nurses. 

To read more about the study, click here

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