Health care sees spurt in job growth

October figures show 24,100 jobs were created in the third-fastest-growing employment sector.

By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted Nov. 17, 2010

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Medicine continues to be a bright spark in a slow-growing economy.

Health care added 24,100 jobs in October, according to preliminary data the Dept. of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics released Nov. 5. That was the third-fastest-growing sector, behind professional and business services (46,000) and retail (27,900). Overall, the economy gained 151,000 nonfarm jobs in October, the first monthly rise since May. Still, the unemployment rate remained at 9.6%.

Physician offices added 2,700 jobs and hospitals added 5,100 in October, according to the BLS. However, physician office employment growth during the past year outpaced hospitals by 41,900 to 37,400. Physician offices employ more than 2.3 million people, and hospitals have more than 4.7 million workers, according to the BLS.

Overall, 829,000 jobs have been added since October 2009, 239,300 in health care, the BLS reported.

The October data are preliminary and subject to revision. On Nov. 5, the BLS revised overall August job declines from 95,000 to 41,000, and September job declines were revised to 1,000 rather than the original estimate of 57,000 (link).

The BLS numbers are not broken down by occupation, but another report indicates that the growth may be mostly in clinical rather than administrative or support staff.

The Conference Board released data on Nov. 1 stating that the number of online job advertisements for health care practitioners and technical staff grew in October. The number of ads increased by 26,800, from 516,300 to 543,100, primarily driven by increased demand for registered nurses and occupational and physical therapists.

The gain was more than any other occupational category, and demand for people to perform these jobs outstripped the number seeking these positions. About 0.46 people were available for each job advertised, according to the Conference Board.

Growth was not as robust for jobs supporting health care professionals. The number of online advertisements for support personnel in the medical industry grew 7,800, from 103,800 to 111,600, primarily driven by an increase in demand for occupational and physical therapist assistants. The number of job seekers for this type of position, however, exceeded the number of jobs. About 2.3 unemployed people existed for each vacancy.

Although jobs continue to be created, layoffs remain an issue in the health care setting. According to BLS data released Oct. 22, 10 mass layoffs occurred at hospitals in September, leading 634 people to claim unemployment benefits. The numbers were similar to September 2009, when 10 mass layoffs affecting 636 people occurred.

However, the current pace of mass layoffs means that 2010 might no longer be on its way to beating 2009's record number of 152 incidents, although it comes close. At the current rate, the year would end with 149 mass layoffs.

Mass layoffs are defined as 50 people losing their jobs from a single employer.

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