If you’re looking for a job in healthcare, you might be in luck. Half of the fastest growing occupations are in the healthcare realm, but the jobs in highest demand require little education and pay little.
“10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, creating new demands on all levels of the health care system, from an increase in caseloads for home health aides to a greater use of technicians, physicians, and medical facilities,” said Lee McPheters, economic research professor at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs such as “physical therapy assistants” and “occupational therapy assistants” are predicted to grow more than 40% by 2022, while “personal care aide” and “home health aide” positions are estimated to nearly double by then.
Growth in these types of positions can largely be attributed to retiring baby boomers and their increasing demand for health services. By 2029, when all baby boomers will be 65 and older, more than a fifth of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“The population is aging, so you’re laying a growing demand for services on top of a growing industry,” said Henry Aaron, a health care expert at the Brookings Institution.
But growing demand doesn’t mean growing pay. “Personal care aides” and “home health aides” are the second and third fastest growing occupations according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but they pay little more than minimum wage. In 2012, the median pay for home health aides was $20,820 per year.
They’re also demographically disproportionate jobs. 89% of direct-care workers are females, more than half have a high school diploma or less, and nearly half are African-American or Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“The jobs are to a disproportionate extent filled with people with low levels of education and are disproportionately filled by minority groups and immigrants,” said Aaron.
Until recently, home health care workers were in the same job categories as babysitters, meaning they were exempt from wage and overtime protections.But under a new federal regulation from the U.S. Department of Labor, starting next year home care workers will be eligible for the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour as well as time-and-a-half pay for overtime.
While this regulation may seem like a well-deserved victory for home health aides, it’s more complicated under the surface. Some states are now worried about Medicaid costs, since home healthcare agencies usually receive money from Medicaid but then set their own wages and hours for employees.
The new rule is forcing employers to cut home care worker’s hours, as is already happening in California. The state government there plans to put a cap on the number of hours worked by home health aides at 40 hours a week to avoid extra costs.
“It’s a horrible idea. It’s going to create chaos. More than half of our homecare workers are family members of clients they take care of,” said Gary Passmore, 68, vice president of the Congress of California Seniors. “If the patient and provider live in the same household, it’s going to severely cut the income coming into that household,” he said.
Passmore added that California has the largest home care system in the country, with 450,000 people receiving service from about 330,000 homecare providers. Under the new cap, home care workers in the state will be forced to only work 40 hours a week even if they’re willing to work more.
This will lead to multiple home health workers taking care of one patient, which could also adversely affect those being cared for. “For many of our people, folks with dementia and people who are profoundly disabled, having consistent care of a single individual and then bringing an unfamiliar person in the household could be alarming,” he said.
While home health workers are facing problems because of Medicaid costs, other healthcare occupations are facing new complications because of the Affordable Care Act. Edward Salsberg, director of the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that the Affordable Care Act will affect the types of workers seen in the healthcare field.
“The Affordable Care Act is impacting the types of workers being used as changes in payment policy are promoting prevention, coordination of care, and the need to constrain costs. This encourages the use of non-physician clinicians, care coordinators, and assistants,” he said.
For example, “Physical Therapist Assistant” positions are projected to grow more than 40% by 2022. Clinics are likely to make less money per patient treatment due to changes of reimbursement from the Affordable Care Act, meaning they’ll want to hire more physical therapist assistants instead of physical therapists since they can pay them less.
Hiring has stalled recently since reimbursement methods are still unclear, but growth is expected to be seen within a few years.
“With the changes in the Affordable Care Act, everyone kind of put the brakes on in terms of hiring anybody. We’re seeing clinics that are maybe looking to hire somebody but aren’t ready yet. Reimbursement isn’t stable yet but in a year or two it will be,” said Jeannie Thompson, 55. Thompson has been a licensed physical therapist assistant in Oregon for 18 years and teaches at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon. “Based on history, ultimately hiring will go up, but in the short-term it takes a while to see that happen,” she said.
While currently all you need is an associate degree to become a physical therapist assistant, in the future it may require a bachelor’s degree. But a bachelor’s degree means more time and money, which could scare away those who may not financially be able to take that much time out of their life for an education.
“People that are able to take two years out of their life may say, ‘Well I can do it for two, but I can’t do it for four,’” said Thompson.
At Mt. Hood Community College, the applicant pool is becoming increasingly diverse. “We see people coming in with bachelor’s and master’s degrees that may not have to do with health care. Here in our program we’ve had two PhD people. They were looking for a different job outlook,’ said Thompson.
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Source: The Brookings Institute