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Healthcare job growth supports economy

But continued growth is challenged by the need to cut costs

As nearly every industry in the country has struggled in the recent recession, healthcare has bucked the trend, continually adding jobs and helping to fuel the country’s economic recovery.

“Healthcare is a strong and growing industry compared to others,” said Martha Ross, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. She is the author of the program’s Healthcare Metro Monitor Supplement, which tracks the role of the healthcare industry in the economy and the economic recovery. “The healthcare industry actually accounts for more than one in 10 jobs in the country,” she added. “We’re actually more healthcare intensive now than before the recession.”

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Over the past decade, the healthcare industry has added 2.6 million jobs nationwide, which accounts for a 22.7 percent employment growth rate compared to the 2.1 percent growth rate among all other industries, according to the supplement.

In 11 metropolitan areas across the entire country, healthcare has accounted for more than 25 percent of the area’s job growth, Ross said. The supplement reports the metropolitan areas with the highest concentrations of healthcare jobs are clustered in the industrial Midwest, which has been losing many factory jobs, and in Florida, with its large and growing population of retirees.

Part of the reason for the growth in the healthcare industry has been the pressure to expand care access and improve quality, Ross said.

But the push to control healthcare spending coupled with the strains of caring for a growing aging population are challenges to the continued growth of healthcare jobs.

[See also: Job growth data not the whole story]

Some of the professions in the healthcare sector that will be growing the most are those that will directly support the aging population – nursing assistants and homecare aides. These are workers that perform important work, said Ross, but because of low wages and limited career ladders have a high turnover rate.

“In this overall context with cost pressures, it’s a tricky situation,” she said. “There are options to improve workers’ skills and responsibilities in these job fields, but that requires them to get paid more. This means reducing spending in other places. There’s room in the system for this but finding the right places to cut costs could be really tricky. Only time will tell.”

[See also: Job growth seen in healthcare despite hospitals cutting labor costs]