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Health care sector plays key role in economic revival, report says

The industry saw a 22.7% increase in health workers in the past decade, with many jobs in the Northeast, Midwest and areas of Florida.

By — Posted July 23, 2013

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The health care industry helped fuel the economic recovery following the recession in major metropolitan areas and is becoming a bigger player in some regional economies, according to a Brookings Institution report.

The industry employed 14.5 million people in the first quarter of 2013, a 22.7% increase from the 11.9 million working in the field in the first quarter of 2003, according to the latest edition of the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program’s MetroMonitor index of economic recovery (link). Employment in other industries grew only 2.1% during the past decade, which included the recession that officially lasted from 2007 to 2009.

The report, released July 1, also shows that one in 10 employees nationwide works in the health care field, accounting for 13% of the total job growth across the nation.

“Overall, the recovery from the recession wasn’t that strong. Health care had an outsized role in the recovery,” said Martha Ross, lead author of the report and a Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program fellow.

She said health care employment is expected to continue to grow as baby boomers age and become more likely to use health services.

“Demographics are a really powerful driver for health care. It is especially growing in areas with a growing population and a growing senior population,” Ross said.

Brookings tracks the economic performance of the nation’s 100 largest metro areas on a quarterly basis. The latest findings were issued as a supplement to the regular MetroMonitor and focuses on health care.

“We wanted to … zero in on a big part of the economy,” she said.

Ross said the employment data were obtained from Moody’s Analytics through the first quarter of 2013 and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. Only privately owned health care facilities were included in the report, which covered all those employed in the health care field, including doctors and home health aides.

Allentown’s employment scene

The most health care-intensive metropolitan areas are in the Northeast, industrial Midwest and areas of Florida with large senior populations, the report said. Allentown, Pa., has one of the highest intensities of health care workers relative to its overall employment base. Two of the top three employers in the region are hospital networks that are expanding.

Physicians, dentists and nurses have the highest earnings among health care workers and earn nearly twice that of the average worker across all metropolitan areas. Health care technologists earn more than the average worker in 35 of the 100 largest metro areas. However, health care support workers, including nursing assistants and home health aides, earn 37% less on average than all workers in large metropolitan areas.

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