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National employment rate rises with health care contributing


January rate tops monthly average for 2023, according to federal figures.

unemployment: © Stephen VanHorn -

© Stephen VanHorn -

Job gains in health care helped total nonfarm employment rise by 353,000 jobs in January, keeping the national unemployment rate at 3.7% for the third month in a row.

The estimate was the latest published Feb. 2 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in the U.S. Department of Labor. Other sectors adding workers included professional and business services, retail trade, and social assistance, the report said.

The monthly figure was above the 333,000 jobs gained in December and above the 2023 monthly average of 255,000 jobs, according to BLS.

In January, the number of unemployed people held steady at about 6.1 million, with long-term unemployed, or those jobless at least 27 weeks, at 1.3 million. The labor force participation rate held steady at 62.5%, while the employment-population ratio little changed at 60.2%; both showed little or no change year over year.

Health care

Job growth in health care averaged 58,000 positions per month in 2023, according to BLS. January 2024 outpaced that, adding 70,300 jobs.

Gains came in ambulatory health care services (33,400), hospitals (20,400), and nursing and residential care facilities (16,500), including 9,000 new workers in skilled nursing facilities. Offices of physicians hired 14,500 new staff last month, while office of other health practitioners added 4,300 workers and offices of dentists hired 800. Home health care services climbed by 15,100 new positions, the report said.

Medical and diagnostic laboratories (1,500) and other ambulatory health care services (-800) were the only segments within health care to post declines.

Year over year, health care employed more than 17.36 million in January 2024, topping employment of 16.66 million in January 2023, when BLS said the sector had returned to pre-pandemic employment levels.

Other industries

Across other industries, professional and business services added 74,000 jobs in January, topping the average monthly increase of 14,000 jobs last year. Professional, scientific and technical services added 42,000 positions. Temporary help added 4,000 jobs for the month, but remains down by 408,000 since peaking in March 2022.

Retail trade employment grew by 45,000 last month, but has shown little net growth since early 2023. Manufacturing grew by 23,000 and government employment rose by 36,000 jobs, below the average monthly gain of 57,000 in 2023.

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Jennifer N. Lee, MD, FAAFP
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health