December 2007 marked the start of the most severe recession in modern times. For more than two years, the economy shed jobs. By the start of 2010, there were 8.6 million fewer jobs than at the start of the recession. These losses would have been greater had health care employment not continued to grow; jobs outside health care fell by 9.2 million while health care added nearly 600 thousand jobs. It took until November 2014 for non-health jobs to return to their pre-recession level, at which point health jobs had grown by 1.7 million. As of January 2017, there are 2.5 million more health jobs than at the start of the recession, an increase of 19 percent over a 9-year period during which the U.S. population grew by only 7 percent. While health jobs make up about 11 percent of total jobs, they have accounted for 35 percent of the jobs added since the start of the recession.
The remarkable performance of the health sector in continuing to create jobs through the recession and recovery has garnered much attention over the past few years. On the positive side, it has been credited with cushioning the impact of the recession, not only for those fortunate enough to land the new health jobs, but also for those whose non-health jobs were preserved by a health job “multiplier effect,” as health workers spent their income on other goods and services. On the other hand, it has been argued that this health job growth should not be celebrated because it has been wasteful, producing little in the way of improved health outcomes. According to this line of thought, we would have been better off curbing health job growth and investing the saved resources in other areas such as education, infrastructure, food, shelter, and retirement savings. A nice recent summary of these issues can be found here. This post informs continued assessment of the growth in health jobs by looking more closely at the nature of the 2.5 million health jobs added since the start of the recession.