By Jeff Lagasse for Healthcare Finance News
After a rough end to 2021 in terms of job losses, healthcare appears to be on the rebound – for now. The latest jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed hospitals gaining jobs in January, though the industry is still below the levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic.
In total, the healthcare sector saw a gain of 18,000 jobs last month. It lost 3,100 jobs in December; the prior month, November 2021, was the last time the sector saw job gains, when it posted a net gain of 2,100.
Hospitals made up for some, but not all, of the job losses seen during the tail end of 2021. They gained 3,400 jobs in January, after losing 5,100 jobs in December and 3,900 in November.
The last time hospitals gained jobs was in October, when 1,100 were added. Hospitals lost 8,100 jobs in September.
The biggest increase was in ambulatory healthcare services, which gained 14,700 jobs during the month. Physicians’ offices added 9,700 jobs. Nursing and residential-care facilities lost about 100 jobs in January.
Despite the gains, employment in healthcare is down by about 378,000 jobs (2.3%) from where it was in February 2020, at the dawn of the pandemic, according to BLS.
The broader U.S. economy added 467,000 jobs in January, after gaining 199,000 jobs in December, while the unemployment rate held fairly steady at about 4%.
WHAT’S THE IMPACT?
In a preview of the jobs report by economic research firm Glassdoor, researchers predicted that job losses in healthcare and leisure and hospitality would drag down overall payroll employment. Other coronavirus-sensitive sectors, such as retail and education, were also impacted, though seasonal factors helped mute job losses in those sectors.
Over the course of the pandemic, new COVID-19 cases have been somewhat predictive of job market data, but current record levels represent a situation without precedent, and there are few good comparisons, Glassdoor found. Since September 2020, each new 1,000 daily cases has been correlated with 4,000 fewer job gains, but the level of cases seen in January is unlike any other previous point in the pandemic, leading to uncertainty heading into the BLS jobs report.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary benchmark estimates forecast a modest downward revision in payroll employment of 166,000 for March 2021.
THE LARGER TREND
The Great Resignation hit the healthcare sector hard in November. BLS released job numbers in January showing that healthcare is among the top three industries cited in a 3% rise in the monthly “quits rate,” matching a high from September. The number of quits surged to 4.53 million for the month.
The numbers coincide with an already-strapped healthcare staffing market. Shortages and burnout among healthcare staff are a pervasive issue.
Multiple factors are contributing to labor pressures, including staff burnout stemming from the enduring pandemic and an overall shortage of qualified help, which has resulted in higher costs to hire temporary staff, as well as wage inflation.
Further, a Fitch Ratings report in November noted that lack of staff is forcing some in-patient behavioral health and senior housing operators to lower admission rates.