Perspective: Health Care Has Recovered Nearly 1 Million Jobs but Is Still 590,000 Below February Level

November 06, 2020

Ani Turner

Both health care and the overall economy continue to recover jobs lost, but both remain below pre-COVID-19 levels of employment, according to Altarum’s analysis of data released today by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The data provide an update on monthly employment through October 2020, eight months out from the start of the “COVID-19 recession.” 

Health care gained 58,300 jobs in October, a very strong month by historical standards, but less than the gains of over 70,000 jobs seen in August and September as the pace of job recovery continues to gradually slow (Figure 1). 

Figure 1. Month-over-month change in health care employment, seasonally adjusted

Source: Altarum analysis of BLS Current Employment Statistics data.

As of October, health care has regained nearly 1 million jobs, or 63% of the 1.58 million jobs lost in March and April. Health care employment remains 3.6% below where it was in February, with 590,000 fewer jobs. Employment remains below pre-COVID-19 levels across all settings of care.  

Ambulatory care settings saw the sharpest drop due to the pandemic, losing 1.33 million jobs in March and April. Most (82%) of these jobs have come back, but ambulatory settings are still down by 246,000 jobs, or 3.1%. Within ambulatory care, outpatient care centers – including Community Health Centers, outpatient behavioral health clinics, and freestanding ambulatory surgery centers – have had the fullest recovery, and are now only 1%, or 10,000 jobs, below their pre-COVID-19 employment. Offices of physicians dropped 10.8% of their workforce, or 295,000 jobs, and have regained three-quarters of these jobs to stand at 2.6%, or 72,000 jobs below their pre-COVID peak. Dental offices, which dropped more than half their workforce (549,000 jobs), have regained 95% of these jobs and now stand at 2.7%, or 26,000 jobs, below pre-COVID-19 levels. Home health care jobs fell by 111,000, of which almost 60% have returned, putting home health at 2.9%, or 45,000 jobs, below February employment. 

Hospital employment fell by only 3.1%, or 161,000 jobs, in April and May but remains about 2.1%, or 111,000 jobs, below the pre-COVID-19 peak. Employment in nursing homes, which has been flat or slightly declining for several years, has fallen in each of the past eight months, and is down 8.4%, or 133,000 jobs since February. Other residential care, including assisted living facilities and residential behavioral health, is also declining, although less steeply, down 5.8%, or 105,000 jobs since February. 

The health care share of total employment usually climbs during recessions. Even though this recession has been unique in its impact on the usually stable health sector, health jobs did not fall as far and are recovering somewhat faster than overall employment. Therefore, the health care share of total employment has modestly jumped to pass 11%, or fully one out of every nine jobs. 

Altarum is a nonprofit organization that works with federal and state agencies and foundations to design and implement solutions to improve the health of individuals with fewer financial resources and populations disenfranchised by the health care system. We achieve measurable results by combining our expertise in public health and health care delivery with technology, workforce training and continuing education, applied research, and technical assistance. Our innovative solutions lead to better health for beneficiaries and better value for payers.
Health Care Has Recovered Nearly 1 Million Jobs but Is Still 590,000 Below February Level


Ani Turner

Ani Turner  - MA

Program Director, Health Economics and Policy

Areas of Expertise
  • Health Spending
  • Health Equity
  • Health Workforce

With over 30 years of experience working with government, commercial, and philanthropic clients, Ani leads Altarum research and policy analyses in areas such as health spending and workforce and the economic impacts of investments in improving health and advancing racial equity. Ani holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in applied economics with a concentration in labor economics, both from the University of Michigan.