Nursing Job and Pay Trends and the Great Recession

The Great Recession, which began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, had a devastating effect on the U.S. economy. By October 2009, 10 percent of the American workforce was unemployed. Although the effects of this economic downturn were broad based, influencing employment and wages throughout the national economy, the aim of this article is to examine whether these trends affected job opportunities and pay for registered nurses.

As far back as 1992, a study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) referred to the health care industry as “the real jobs machine.” More recently, BLS long-term employment projections have indicated a growth in all jobs of 6.5 percent over the 2014–24 period, with employment for registered nurses expected to increase by 16.0 percent. Thus, the ongoing growth of healthcare-related industries and occupations has been part of our past and is expected to be with us for the foreseeable future.

Although much evidence exists to support the view that nursing is a recession-proof occupation—or even a counter-cyclical one in which job gains increase faster in recessionary periods than in non-recessionary periods—that view is not universally held. In addition, all previous studies of the effect of the Great Recession on nursing have focused exclusively on employment. However, the effect of the recession on wages has not been examined. Both employment and wages need to be considered to comprehensively assess the effect of the recession on the nursing profession.

This article attempts such an assessment by analyzing employment and wage data for the 2002–15 period, paying special attention to the years from 2007 to 2010, which provide insight into the trends that took place during the recession. Specifically, to achieve analytical detail, the article examines the following three questions, for both periods:

  1. What general trends in employment and average wages occurred in both the national economy and the nursing profession? Were any differences in those trends observed?
  2. Did specific occupational settings—that is, the industries in which nurses were employed—exert any influence on nursing employment and wages?
  3. Did geographic location influence nursing employment and wages differently than it did employment and wages in the general regional economy?

The answers to these three questions should provide insights into how the nursing profession responded to the Great Recession.

Full article by – Michael L. Dolfman, Mathew Insco and Richard J. Holden here.