Though they're on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. health care workers' paychecks don't always adequately reward those efforts.
Wages for health care workers actually rose less than the average across all U.S. employment sectors during the first and second years of the pandemic, according to a new study that also reported a nationwide decline in the number of health care workers.
The research was done by investigators from Indiana University, the University of Michigan and the nonprofit Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif.
"While federal programs provided financial assistance to hospitals and institutions, it is important to focus on the effect of the pandemic on health care employment levels and wages, especially if we want to prevent such shortages in the future," said study co-author Christopher Whaley, a policy researcher at Rand. He spoke in an Indiana University news release.
For the study, the researchers analyzed federal data covering 95% of all U.S. jobs during 2020 and the first six months of 2021. Overall, wages increased 6.7% in 2020 and 6.9% in 2021, compared to 5% and 1.5%, respectively, for health care workers.
Meanwhile, the number of health care-related jobs fell from 22.2 million in 2019 to 21.1 million in mid-2020, a 5.2% drop. The largest decreases were in dental offices (10%) and skilled nursing facilities (8.4%).
While employment levels in most health care sectors rebounded to pre-COVID levels last year, employment at skilled nursing facilities was 13.6% lower in 2021 than in 2019.
The findings -- recently published in JAMA Health Forum -- are important for planning for and responding to ongoing and future public health crises, the researchers said.
They said though employment declines in the health care sector have received extensive media coverage, nationwide employment and wage evidence had been scarce.
"These findings provide a data-driven picture of employment levels by various health care settings and can help guide decision-making not only around the current health care shortage but also during a future crisis," said study co-author Kosali Simon, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University Bloomington.
For more about the COVID pandemic's impact on health care workers, visit the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
SOURCE: Indiana University, news release, Feb. 25, 2022