The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to impact healthcare jobs, even as healthcare employment at many facilities has returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to a Peterson and Kaiser Family Foundation health system tracker released Friday.
Healthcare job growth rates have not yet returned to levels that had been expected before the COVID-19 pandemic, when healthcare employment had been steadily growing, according to the tracker, which compiled data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For example, employment in home health services had recovered completely in December 2022 after job losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. In December, 1.6 million Americans were employed in home health services. However, job gains in the sector only grew at an average rate of 0.3% per month. If growth had continued steadily from 2020, without pandemic job effects, home health services would have employed 1.7 million Americans.
At the beginning of the pandemic, healthcare jobs fell sharply but not as severely compared to other sectors. Healthcare employment fell 8.2% from April 2019 to April 2020, while non-health jobs employment fell by 14%, according to the tracker. However, the decline was short lived, with the healthcare industry reporting almost 95% pre-pandemic job recovery by July 2020. Physician offices, home health services, outpatient care centers and hospitals employed more people in December 2022 than they had in February 2020.
But pandemic effects still linger in the industry, with the tracker reporting that the overall health sector has seen a 3.9% decline in actual versus projected job growth rates based on pre-pandemic levels.
Elder care and nursing home facilities have suffered the worst projected job losses, with the industries seeing 12.5% and 10.5% declines respectively. Both industries continue to see relatively low employment, according to the tracker.
The Biden administration has recently increased its oversight into the nursing home sector, announcing in October that the administration would increase penalties for nursing homes hit with citations. The administration also said it would devote funds to spur job growth at nursing homes.
The tracker also analyzed healthcare job quits, finding that, since the beginning of 2021, healthcare workers have been leaving their jobs at higher rates compared to before the pandemic. Healthcare and social assistance job quits were 32.5% higher by November 2022 than they were before the pandemic, according to the tracker.
The job quits come as healthcare burnout reached unprecedented highs during the pandemic. Physicians have reported experiencing delayed COVID-19 burnout and a third of nurses said they planned to quit their job at the end of 2022.
Healthcare has also seen a slight increase in wage earnings. Since mid-2021, healthcare wages increased slightly faster than overall average earnings, with private healthcare employees seeing a 17% increase in wages from February 2020 to November 2022, compared to a average weekly increase of nearly 15% for private sector employees.
And, although the sectors has the lowest job gains, nursing home and elder care employees have seen the largest average earning increase of 21.8% and 20.5%, respectively, although the tracker noted that an increase in average wage does not necessarily mean higher pay for a given worker and could be influenced by changes in the distribution of low or high wage employees.
Similarly, although physician offices saw the largest employment gains following the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve also seen the lowest average wage increases, according to the tracker, with average earnings rising 11% from February 2020 to November 2022. Hospital employees saw an average increase of 17%.