Perspective: Health Care Regains Half of Jobs Lost This Spring

August 07, 2020

Ani Turner

Paul Hughes-Cromwick

Based on today’s Employment Situation-July 2020 release, the U.S. health sector is continuing to regain jobs, but at a slower pace than in May and June. Adding 125,000 jobs in July, the health sector has regained more than 780,000 jobs, or about half of the 1.58 million jobs lost in March and April of this year.


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

Source: Altarum analysis of BLS Current Employment Statistics data


In ambulatory care settings, where most of the job losses occurred, two-thirds of jobs have returned. As we have noted in previous analyses, dental offices have experienced particularly dramatic swings in employment, losing more than half the jobs in this setting (549,000 jobs) in March and April, but rebounding quickly in May and June. Dental offices added another 45,000 in July and have now regained 483,000 jobs since April, or 94% of the jobs lost.

Hospitals were slower to lose jobs than ambulatory care settings, lost a smaller percentage of jobs, and have been slower to regain them. Hospitals lost 161,000 jobs in April and May and have gained back 30,000 jobs, or 18% of jobs lost, through July. At the current level of employment, the hospital workforce has shrunk by about 3%. Note that hospital employment includes inpatient care, including care of Covid-19 hospitalizations, and hospital-based outpatient clinics and ancillary services, as well as administrative and other non-health care service jobs.

Nursing and residential care employment continues to fall. Job losses in these settings have not been as dramatic as in ambulatory care but both nursing homes and other residential care have shed jobs for five straight months, for a total of 220,000 jobs lost.

The overall economy regained jobs in July, also at a slower pace than in May and June, adding 1.76 million jobs. Including health care, the economy has regained 42% of jobs lost. Comparing July 2020 to July 2019, health care jobs are down by 3.5%, while non-health jobs are down by 8.0%, for a total year-over-year decline of 7.5% in U.S employment.

What lies ahead for health jobs? Our crystal ball is as cloudy as anyone’s, but it seems reasonable to project slower job recovery in the health sector (and overall) in the near-term. The surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths in July and August (with one highly respected model now projecting over 300,000 U.S. Covid-19 deaths by the end of the year) can be expected to put a damper on what had been a steady increase in health care utilization, especially for elective care. The large for-profit hospital companies reported better-than-expected earnings in the second quarter of 2020 because of government relief, aggressive cost cutting, but also a strong utilization recovery. The continuing spread of the virus will likely inhibit this elective care recovery especially in the most affected regions of the country.

Longer term, it is possible that health care in all settings may learn to manage with less staff as revenue is reduced and use of technology increases – good for efficiency, obviously not so for furloughed workers. Nonetheless, the health sector has not only been heroic in its care of Covid-19 patients, it has also been innovative in adapting to what may be the health care delivery environment for the long haul. This includes everything from instant temperature checks for arriving patients, to expedited Covid-19 testing protocols before outpatient procedures, to social distancing in waiting rooms, routine use of personal protective equipment, and a rapid ramp up in the use of telemedicine.

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 Regains Half of Jobs Lost This Spring


Ani Turner

Ani Turner  - MA

Senior Economist

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.

Paul Hughes-Cromwick

Paul Hughes-Cromwick  - MA

Co-Director of Sustainable Health Spending Strategies

Areas of Expertise
  • Health Sector Spending
  • Health Policy Analysis

For over 35 years, Paul Hughes-Cromwick has been involved in health care economic and policy analyses including economic forecasting and health sector economic indicators. Paul leads Altarum’s monthly series of timely briefs covering national health spending, employment, prices and health care utilization. Paul has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Clark University.