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Health Care Jobs Rank High With Young Californians

Depending on whom you talk to, the health care industry is:

A. A silver lining in a very cloudy fiscal forecast;

B. Suffering financially, just like other industries;

C. An important part in the engine being designed to drive financial recovery;

D. The best place to look for a job; or

E. All of the above.

Young Californians answered D in a survey this month. A representative of the hospital industry in California answered B. Many employment experts answer A. Some industry insiders answer C.

The correct answer, of course, is E, but that doesn’t diminish the impact or importance of any of the other answers, all of them also correct from certain perspectives.

Young Job Seekers Like Security

Young Californians, who don’t have a particularly rosy image of the employment situation in California, rank health care as the best place to look for a career, according to a survey commissioned by the California Wellness Foundation.

The survey focused on allied health professions requiring roughly the equivalent of a two-year associate degree or certification program — jobs such as medical assistants, pharmacy technicians, emergency medical technicians. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they found the job of medical assistant appealing, while 47% said they found the work of emergency medical technicians appealing.

The only non-health care job ranking in the top echelon was computer service technician at 48%.

By comparison, other professions ranked considerably lower: bank tellers (36%), waiters or bartenders (31%), retail clerks (29%) and security guards (20%).

Job security is especially important to young adults, who are keenly aware of the state’s economic downturn, according to the survey of 728 Californians ages 16 to 34.  It was conducted this fall as the severity of the nation’s financial meltdown became more apparent.

Three-quarters of those polled said they have a negative perception of the job market in the state. About two-thirds said job security was more important than wages.

Living Wages, Benefits Key

Saba Brelvi, program director for the California Wellness Foundation, believes health care is a bright spot on the financial horizon.

“Health care jobs and careers often pay living wages and provide benefits, both of which are particularly important to Californians during times of economic distress,” Brelvi said.

Brelvi said the foundation’s poll was aimed at allied health professions in part because the shortage of workers in that area is less documented than shortages in other areas, such as nursing and primary care physicians.

“We have a large and diverse population of young adults in California who can provide the culturally competent and language-accessible care that is needed for our diverse patient population.  Although many people think of doctors, nurses and dentists when they think of health care professions, most of the jobs in the health care sector don’t require four years of college and post-graduate training,” Brelvi said. 

“There are many training programs in allied health in our state’s community colleges that will position young people to enter the workforce with stable and secure jobs,” Brelvi added.

‘Brightness’ in Eye of Beholder

Jan Emerson, vice president of the California Hospital Association, endorses the rationale and findings of the jobs survey, but she disagrees a bit with some of its conclusions. 

“We’re all in agreement that there is a shortage of allied health professionals,” Emerson said. “It’s caused by many of the same issues as the nursing profession, but that’s been recognized and is being addressed. We definitely need to have increased numbers of people to become allied health professionals and that hasn’t yet been addressed.”

Emerson said the hospital association has formed a statewide task force to examine the allied health workforce and make recommendations to strengthen it.

“One of the things this survey does that we might not agree with is portray the health care industry as a bright spot in the economy. From the hospital perspective, that’s not necessarily true,” Emerson said.

“Hospitals are being hit by the economic crisis like everybody else. We’re seeing significant increases in people who can’t pay their co-payments because of the economic downturn.  We’re seeing increased numbers of uninsured coming to ERs and we’re hearing from hospitals that might not be able to comply with the 2013 seismic deadline because of the credit crunch,” Emerson said.

Health Jobs Growing

Health care is one of two labor sectors that added jobs in November, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly national survey showed health care employment grew by 34,000 jobs last month, one of the darkest economic months in the nation’s recent history.

The only other sector with job growth in November was government, and that was largely attributed to post-election changes at local, state and national levels.

Over the past 12 months, the health care sector has added 369,000 jobs, according to the Labor Department.

Catherine Dower, associate director for health law and policy at the Center for Health Professions at UC-San Francisco, said health care can be a key part of economic recovery at the state and national levels.

“All other sectors are cropping jobs,” Dower said. “We would have been happy to maintain our job levels in health care, considering the economic climate, but they grew. That’s remarkable.”

Dower said the UCSF Center for Health Professions expects the strong labor market to continue in health care, “with one caveat,” she said.

“The crystal ball isn’t clear about the long term because demand is unclear. Conventional wisdom is that demand will grow as baby boomers age and need more care. But I’m not sure that will play out so simply. I don’t think anybody can predict what the boomer generation will be like. In many ways they’ve been a more health-conscious generation than those before. It’s possible they will be a healthier cohort of people and won’t need as much care as everybody thinks,” Dower said.

Health Jobs Part of Stimulus

No matter what happens in the long term, health care employment is in line for a significant boost in the short term if the president-elect’s plans for economic recovery come to fruition.

President-elect Barack Obama, his choice for health and human services secretary Tom Daschle and Democratic leaders in Congress hope to expand health care’s role in what is shaping up to be a huge economic stimulus package. That expansion promises to create many new jobs and retraining opportunities for people currently working in health care.

Obama said reforming the health care system, with special attention to health information technology, “has to be intimately woven into our overall economic recovery plan.”

In a stimulus bill that could exceed $500 billion, Obama plans to increase federal Medicaid spending, expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and make a large investment in health IT. During the campaign, Obama called for spending $10 billion a year on health IT for the next five years.

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