A recent article in Slate’s online magazine discusses the anemic effects on American’s attitudes towards the economy, despite the creation of 1.4 million jobs in the last ten months. The article’s author theorizes, “Productivity growth, globalization, outsourcing, and widespread excess capacity probably have something to do with it.” I’ll take it a step further – technology and globalization are merely symptoms of a fundamental shift in the American economy. The reason increased job creation hasn’t made an impact is the American economy has moved from being one based on manufacturing to one being based on services and information. American workers have simply not adapted to this change.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the healthcare industry. Jobs available in healthcare lead the nation in creation and wages through 2012. Yet, there is a severe shortage of nurses (RNs & LPNs), medical assistants, medical coders, x-ray technicians and many more.
Reasons for increased healthcare burden.
The aging of the largest segment of the U.S. population (“baby boomers”) has done two things –decrease the number of workers…due to retirement…and increase the number of people who need healthcare. Baby boomers comprise 76 million members of America’s 290 million population. Additionally, healthcare advances have increased overall lifespan. Due to medical breakthroughs, people stricken with terminal diseases like cancer and AIDS are living longer with their ailment. These three factors in combination point to a continued strong demand on the American healthcare system.
Reasons for healthcare worker shortage.
Some healthcare work, particularly specialties dealing directly with patient care, can be very draining physically and emotionally. Though the hours tend to be flexible, they also tend to be long and inconvenient (12 hour shifts, nights, weekends and holidays). Medical professionals in specialties like nursing or medical assisting will advance their careers through education and moving to different employers. The end result is many healthcare workers tend to move out of patient care.
Our nation’s education system has been slow to train replacements. Many high school students believe the only way to a well paying career is through a four-year college. State colleges and community colleges don’t have enough teaching resources to produce more students. In many parts of the country, waiting lists for entering nursing school are common.
Finally, to ease the burden on doctors, many nurses, medical assistants and physician’s assistants perform tasks only doctors could once perform. This has increased the prestige of these specialty medical professions.
Technology impacts demand as well.
Technology advances in the healthcare field has also increased job growth. Specialty medical equipment like x-ray machines, MRIs and CT scanning needs qualified workers. The computerization of medical records by hospitals, insurance companies and HMOs has created positions in medical billing and coding. Rising healthcare costs have been tempered by home care, which has created its own industry demands.
Going back to the point made at the beginning of the article, we can see that even if jobs are created; existing unemployed workers cannot necessarily fill them. Special training or licensing is required to do many of the jobs available in healthcare. In fact, some patient care positions are being filled by people from other countries.
American workers need to take some responsibility for their own employment. They need to possess computer skills and many who were formerly in manufacturing positions need to consider new industries. The good news is many well paying healthcare positions can be trained for in less than two years…some in only six months. Career colleges offer programs in many healthcare fields with little or no waiting periods.
Adaptation to changing economic trends has to take place in America for the country to prosper. Education is a critical step in completing the transition from manufacturing to the post-modern nation of service and information.