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Healthcare employment dips in January, as slowdown continues


By Melanie Evans
Posted: February 7, 2014 - 1:30 pm ET
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Healthcare employment declined in January, according to preliminary federal data, although officials revised their December figures for the industry from a loss of 6,000 jobs to a gain of 2,400.

The data show healthcare employment declined by 400 jobs last month.

January's numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest the remarkable slowdown in healthcare hiring, typically a bright spot even in bad times, could be more than a fluke. The industry's total employment was 14.6 million, largely unchanged from the prior month.

“We may be entering a period of even greater slowdown of healthcare employment as we enter 2014,” said Ani Turner, the Altarum Institute's deputy director of the Center for Sustainable Health Spending. The growth was smaller last year than in 2012, with the ambulatory sector largely responsible for the meager gains, Turner said.

Hospital employment declined for the second straight month, the preliminary data show. Hospitals employed 4,500 fewer workers in January after a decline of 4,700 jobs the prior month. The sector's job losses last year contributed to the first decline in annual hospital employment since 1994, based on revised figures released this month.

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The U.S. economy added 113,000 jobs in January, an increase of 0.1%, and the unemployment rate stood at 6.6%, a tenth of a percentage point lower than December. The biggest gains were in manufacturing and construction.

Overall healthcare hiring for the 12 months that ended in January totaled 198,300 jobs, an increase of 1.4%. And according to revised figures, hospitals shed 400 jobs over the course of 2013. The agency's preliminary figures, released last month and since revised, had shown an increase of 9,800 jobs at U.S. hospitals last year, according to an analysis by the Altarum Institute. The last year that hospital employment declined was 1994, when the sector lost 6,200 jobs. Nursing homes eliminated an average of 1,000 jobs a month in 2013 after adding an average of 1,800 a month for the past two decades, Turner said.

Ambulatory care added 9,000 jobs in January, according to the new round of preliminary numbers. Within that category, physician office hiring cooled, adding 900 jobs compared with 3,100 in December.

Insurance expansion under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act could give a boost to healthcare hiring, as newly insured individuals seek medical care. But with a slow start to enrollment and coverage in effect for slightly more than a month, it's too early to say, she said. “That might be a force that starts to offset this seeming flattening growth in healthcare employment.”

Follow Melanie Evans on Twitter: @MHmevans


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