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November 9, 2015

One in nine jobs are now in health care. But is that a good thing?

Daily Briefing

Dan Diamond, Executive Editor

Ever since the recession hit America, tracking the jobs report has been a minor obsession for me. The first Friday of every month, I dig into the newest data, looking for trends and seeking answers. I specifically scrutinize health care hiring, trying to figure out what it means for the future of the industry.

And I've never seen numbers like this before.

According to Friday's latest report, health care providers have added nearly 500,000 jobs in the past 12 months. That's 75,000 more jobs than the previous two years—combined. And it's the biggest one-year swing in the health care sector in at least twenty-five years by an order of magnitude.

Based on total jobs, no industry is growing faster than health care. And it only seems to be trending up.

All told, more than 15 million people now work in health care—essentially, the sector is responsible for one in nine jobs in America.

And the biggest driver of the health care sector's incredible growth? Hospitals.

If you'd asked me even 18 months ago, that would have surprised me. Compared to outpatient care centers and home health agencies, hospitals' job growth had been notoriously slow. The sector even lost jobs in 2013.

But hospitals have added more jobs in the past year—about 146,000—than in the previous seven years combined.

There are some obvious drivers behind this trend. The Affordable Care Act's coverage expansion has pushed the nation's uninsured rate to its lowest level, ever—which has seemingly led to greater demand on providers, as more patients seek care. 

And the nation's recovery from the recession means more demand for health care, too. Patients who are worried about losing their jobs tend to put off procedures that they otherwise might seek out.

Jobs growth is generally a good thing—especially if you're the person getting the job—but some experts are getting nervous because of the surge in health care hiring.

Namely, lawmakers and reformers are constantly cautious that a rise in health care employment will lead to more health care spending, which then gets passed along to patients.

How to think about health care jobs growth

Listen to Dan, Rivka Friedman, and Rob Lazerow debate the health care jobs of the future, as well as discuss the challenge of finding work-life balance, on a recent episode of the Weekly Briefing, the Advisory Board's popular podcast.

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