Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, CES6562100001, CES6562200001, CES6562300001, Plus Sum of All Three Components
Updated on February 05, 2021, with data through January 2021
For years, the U.S. health care sector has demonstrated remarkable durability with respect to annual and monthly job growth and has weathered significant downturns, such as the Great Recession and other less impactful recessions. In fact, the resistance of this sector to job cuts during these downturns has led some to refer to it as a “recession-resistant” component of the U.S. economy.1 Unexpectedly, it appears that a global viral pandemic—a time of urgent need—will lay bare vulnerabilities underlying the U.S. health care system. The ongoing challenges in the health care sector first appeared as a crack in March 2020 (–40,000 jobs), followed by the opening of a chasm in April 2020 (–1.4 million jobs).
The monthly jobs report for May 2020 brought some good news. Broadly, the U.S. economy added more than 2.5 million payroll jobs and the unemployment rate dropped significantly. Within the health care sector, more than 300,000 workers returned to jobs in May. While May’s increases were limited to the ambulatory health care services (AHCS) component, the pace of job losses slowed in the other two health care components, raising hopes of a rebound across all components in June’s report.
Indeed, the good employment news continued in June 2020, with the U.S. economy adding 4.8 million payroll jobs, as the unemployment rate fell to 11.1%. In health care, more than 350,000 jobs were added. By component, AHCS and hospitals both added jobs, while nursing and residential care facilities posted another monthly loss.
As 2020 came to a close, the late fall employment reports showed a slowing labor market, ending with an unfortunate loss of 140,000 jobs in December 2020. These combined results highlight dwindling impact from stimulus measures taken much earlier in the pandemic, as well as rapidly rising COVID-19 case counts across the nation.
In December 2020, the health care sector added a little under 40,000 jobs. By health care component, there was a rise in AHCS and hospital jobs, but another drop at nursing and residential care facilities.
Concerns surrounding COVID-19 case counts are increasing, both in the U.S. and globally, bringing further uncertainty around the world’s fragile economic recovery from the initial shocks of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. Hopes for a sustainable recovery remain focused on the development and distribution of a safe and effective vaccine (see below).
1 M.L. Dolfman, et al. Healthcare jobs and the Great Recession. Monthly Labor Review. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2018/article/healthcare-jobs-and-the-great-recession.htm. Accessed April 2020.