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Is there more or less health care than before the pandemic?

The pandemic brought about serious upheaval in the health care sector. Services directly connected to the COVID-19 virus were overwhelmed at times, while non-essential services came close to a standstill. Our question for today is, in sum, how has the health care sector fared?

The FRED graph above shows personal consumption expenditures on health care. This measure probably isn’t a good indicator to answer our question, as it doesn’t include any of the expenses paid by other entities, such as businesses and various levels of government. So we need a measure that encompasses all of the health care sector.

The second FRED graph gets closer to what we want, although with data that are not as current as the data in the first graph.

We see that total revenue of health care establishments (in blue) dipped severely at the start of the pandemic, but then got back on track with its previous trend. This pattern is actually not that much different from the rest of the economy. Health care employment (in red) shows a different picture: Employment is still far below the peak before the pandemic and, hence, even further below the long-term trend.

But one has to be careful here: The revenue numbers aren’t adjusted for inflation. So, one more graph…

Our last FRED graph (below) shows that this storyline still holds: The health care sector has had to deliver more than what had been expected before, but with far fewer employees.

How these graphs were created: First graph: Search for and select “health care expenditures.” Second graph: Search for and select “health care revenue.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Add Line” tab to search for and select “health care employment.” Use the “Format” tab to put the y-axis on right for the second series. Reduce the sample period to focus on the last years. Third graph: Starting with the second graph, use the “Edit Graph” panel to add a series to the first line by searching for “GDP deflator” and applying formula a/b*100.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

The health of labor markets post-pandemic: The supply perspective

As we discussed in the previous post, firms everywhere are having serious difficulties filling vacancies. With these worker shortages on everyone’s minds, let’s discuss how the pandemic has shaped the workforce.

The FRED graph above shows the fraction of people who participate in the labor force—that is, who either have a job or are actively looking for one—by age group. In previous recessions, only teenagers had significant declines in participation rates; clearly, most workers who lost their jobs kept looking for another. In 2020, however, participation rates declined across the board, with would-be workers leaving the labor force in the face of widespread shutdowns, health concerns, school closures, and financial support from the government.

That said, different age groups clearly reacted to the recent recession in different ways. Older workers’ participation rates declined through 2021—probably led by a wave of early retirees—but prime-age workers’ rates plateaued slightly below their pre-pandemic levels. It’s likely that some would-be workers remain out of the labor force because of lingering health concerns and childcare needs.

Now, what about teenagers today? The participation rate for 16- to 19-year-olds has increased beyond its pre-pandemic level. It’s possible some of this is related to historically low undergraduate enrollment, with high school graduates opting for work in the tight labor market over potentially remote learning.

How these graphs were created: Search for and select “Labor force participation rate – 16-19 Yrs.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Add line” tab to search for and add “Labor force participation rate – 20-24 Yrs.” Do the same for “Labor force participation rate – 25-54 Yrs.” And “Labor force participation rate – 55 Yrs. & Over.” Set the date range to mirror the dates shown in the blog post.

Suggested by Carlos Garriga and Devin Werner.

The health of labor markets post-pandemic: The demand perspective

Successful vaccines are bringing the pandemic effectively to an end. And, as economic activity resumes, firms everywhere appear to be having serious difficulties hiring: The news is filled with middling labor market reports, alarming anecdotes, and long restaurant wait times.

The FRED graph above quantifies this shift by depicting, across industries, the number of job openings at the end of each month. It’s very clear that across the board this number has jumped significantly, especially in the past few months.

Such a jump is a very positive development for the U.S. economy. The number of job openings at any given time is affected by both how difficult it is for firms to fill openings and how many openings firms offer in the first place. Insofar as the recent increase is caused by firms expanding, it’s clear that firms are expecting future business growth. Consult the graph to compare the recent jumps to the much lower number of job openings after the Great Recession and its lengthy “jobless recovery.”

The industry-level numbers are noteworthy: The leisure and hospitality industry, frequently the focus of news stories about worker shortages, has had the largest increase in job openings. But the other industries aren’t far behind, despite being significantly less impacted by the pandemic, as data from the same data release show. While leisure and hospitality lost over 3 million jobs in 2020, the others lost less than a million. Chalk that up to the pandemic’s lopsided impact on these various industries.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post: “The health of labor markets post-pandemic: The supply perspective.”

How these graphs were created: First graph: Search for and select “Job openings: Health care and social assistance.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Add line” tab to search for and add “Job openings: Leisure and Hospitality.” Do the same for “Job Openings: Manufacturing” and “Job Openings: Trade, Transportation, and Utilities.” Adjust the date range to mirror the dates shown in the blog post. Second graph: Search for and select “Hires: Health Care and Social Assistance.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Edit Line” tab to modify frequency to be annual with “Aggregation method” set to “Sum”; then add “Total Separations: Health Care and Social Assistance” under “Customize data” and set “Formula” to “a-b.” Do the same for the other industries (“Leisure and Hospitality,” “Manufacturing,” and “Trade, Transportation, and Utilities”), adding hires for each using the “Add line” tab and then repeating the steps above. Finally, go to the “Format” tab and set “Graph type” to “Bar” and set the date range to mirror the dates shown in the blog post.

Suggested by Carlos Garriga and Devin Werner.

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