For those of you who spend each day on the front lines of healthcare staffing, it might not feel like the industry is on the cusp of a significant period of expansion. Federal budget sequestration, weak census, Medicare reimbursement cuts and uncertainty regarding healthcare reform led many healthcare systems to lay off employees in 2013. In fact, December was the first month the number of U.S. healthcare jobs actually declined since June 2003, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Unfortunately, as each of those factors remains in play to some degree, the environment is likely to remain challenging in 2014 as well. But the underlying growth drivers that we detailed in our last two monthly installments are genuine, and they indicate that the next decade is likely to be a strong one for healthcare employment. That was the conclusion drawn by Timothy Landhuis in his long-term U.S. staffing industry forecast, which Staffing Industry Analysts corporate members can access by clicking here.
Underlying this forecast are BLS employment projections through 2022 that were released in December. “Healthcare and Social Assistance” leads all other industry sectors in expected growth, adding 5 million jobs between 2012 and 2022 (2.6 percent on an average annual basis) for total growth of 29.4 percent over the decade.
When segmenting further by industry, healthcare stands out from other areas of the economy once again.
“The industry of ‘offices of health practitioners’, which includes offices of physicians, of dentists, and of other health practitioners such as chiropractors and optometrists, is expected to add the largest number of jobs among the service-providing industries and the second largest number of jobs overall,” the BLS release points out. “In addition, this industry is projected to experience one of the fastest and largest growths in real output over the projection period.”
Some of the factors BLS identified as driving this output boom are healthcare cost pressures, the aging population and technological advances that are expected to shift services from inpatient facilities and hospitals to outpatient settings.
Despite the fact hospitals will be the slowest-growing industry within the healthcare sector, at 1.6 percent through 2022, the 814,800 jobs it will add makes it the fifth-largest gainer on that basis among all industries. This is due to the large employment base in hospitals, meaning even low percentage growth brings a significant number of new jobs. Other industries buoying job growth in the sector include "home healthcare services" (up 4.8 percent), "outpatient, laboratory and other ambulatory care services" (up 3.8 percent) and "nursing and residential care facilities" (up 2.2 percent).
Shifting the focus to occupational groups, the two projected growth leaders are healthcare support occupations (up 28.1 percent) and healthcare practitioners (up 21.5 percent). Looking more granularly within the healthcare practitioner/technical occupations group, sub-categories expected to lead employment growth are "diagnostic medical sonographers" (up 46.0 percent), "physician assistant" (up 38.4 percent) and "physical therapists" (up 36.0 percent). Among support occupations, "home health aides" (up 48.5 percent), "occupational therapy assistants" (up 42.6 percent) and "physical therapy assistants" (up 41.0 percent). The inclusion of three therapy occupations among these six should come as a relief to firms that focus on staffing allied health professionals, which have been acutely affected over the last year by Medicare payment adjustments.
The most critical assumption in the government’s projections for healthcare employment, of course, is that implementation of the Affordable Care Act continues despite the lingering threats of repeal. As that assumption appears increasingly secure, we remain sanguine about the long-range prospects for healthcare staffing. While the remainder of 2014 may well be challenging, take solace in the notion that better days lie ahead.