Health care jobs rebounding, but COVID-19 effects will linger for years

“Relatively recession-proof” sector tanked in spring 2020, but not as badly as overall economy, report says.

Health care jobs largely have rebounded to prepandemic levels, although COVID-19 will affect health care and the entire U.S. job market for years to come.

The Peterson Center on Healthcare and KFF’s Health System Tracker compiled and analyzed employment figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Survey (CES) and the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. While the pandemic recession may be over, “recovery is incomplete,” said the report, “What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had on health employment?” published this month.

July 2022 was the first month since the pandemic that nonhealth sector jobs rose above February 2020 levels, the report said. Even with gains, health care sector employment was 0.5% lower than in February 2020.

Health care employment has “been relatively recession-proof,” nudging upward even during the Great Recession of December 2007 to June 2009. It tanked with the rest of the economy in spring 2020, falling from total health employment of 16.5 million people in February 2020 to 14.9 million two months later.

Measuring year on year, that was not as bad as the rest of the job market. Health employment fell 8.3% from April 2019 to April 2020, while nonhealth-care-related employment dropped 13%, the report said.

Within health care, physicians’ offices had a drop in workers of about 11% in April 2020, but has rebounded most strongly, reaching pre-pandemic levels in about April 2021 and now showing about 4% growth.

Every area within the health care sector, except for nursing care facilities, were growing steadily before March 2020. But even with recent gains, no areas of the health care sector have reached levels of job gains that were projected before COVID-19, based on pre-pandemic rates.

For example, in-home health jobs grew by 0.28% per month from 2017 to early 2020. Had that continued, home health service workers would number 1.68 million in July 2022, instead of 1.57 million, the report said.

That effect was smallest for physicians’ offices, where the July 2022 employment was just 0.8% below projected growth levels from before the pandemic. The difference was most pronounced for nursing care facilities (12%) and community care facilities for the elderly (13.5%), according to the report.