Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, CES6562100001, CES6562200001, CES6562300001, Plus Sum of All Three Components
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 summer turned to fall, the September and October 2020 employment reports showed a slowdown in employment recovery, with hiring easing further in November. The U.S. economy added 711,000 (revised) and 610,000 (revised) nonfarm payroll jobs in September and October, respectively. However, the pace of hiring fell substantially in November, to just 245,000, as COVID-19 case counts jumped rapidly and hospital capacity declined across the nation.
The health care sector added a little under 200,000 jobs during these three months. By health care component, there was a rise in AHCS for all three months, but mixed results among hospitals, and 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.