Health care adds jobs, at low pay

  • Article by: ADAM BELZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 1, 2014 - 6:53 AM

Openings are plentiful in low-wage areas such as home care, home aides.

The new low-wage job in Minnesota is in health care.

That traditionally high-paying sector has carried the state’s job recovery in recent years, but most of the new workers aren’t higher-paid doctors and nurses. The majority of health jobs created in Minnesota since the end of 2008 are in lower-paying roles like home health care or nursing home aides.

The typical pay for these positions: $20,000 a year or less.

“People tend to overlook health care and think it’s all fast food and retail, but it’s not,” said Paul Osterman, a labor market economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

While the nation has recovered the jobs it lost in the downturn, the mix of jobs has changed. Industries that shed employment in the Great Recession pay an average $14,000 per year more than the industries that have gained jobs since, and people say they feel it.

Forty percent of Americans believe the economy will never restore the level of jobs with good pay that existed before the recession, according to a Rutgers University survey released Thursday. Another 48 percent believe the restoration will take “many years.”

From 2008 to 2013, Minnesota lost 28,000 jobs in manufacturing, an industry where average wages are $1,145 per week. Meanwhile the state gained more than 24,000 jobs that pay an average of less than $500 per week. Overwhelmingly, these jobs are in health care, require limited skills and training, and pay a wage that cannot support a family.

“No, I don’t make enough money,” said Sumer Spika, 35, of St. Paul. She works full time caring for a disabled girl.

Spika has three kids of her own, a fourth on the way. Her husband is disabled with multiple sclerosis.

The family relies on the government for health insurance and food stamps, even though Spika gets paid more than most personal care workers — $12 an hour.

“That is definitely the higher end,” she said. “I don’t know anybody that does home care that doesn’t rely on the county or the government for some kind of help.”

Demographic boom

There’s a reason for the growth in lower-paying health jobs: The aging population is driving demand for workers who will bathe patients, give them medicine and help them eat and get around.

“You’ve got this huge group of people moving into these years where they need more care,” said Pete Ferderer, an economist at Macalester College. “The demographics driving nursing care and social assistance, that’s going to be with us for a while.”

Minnesota has among the highest concentrations of home health aides and personal care aides in the nation.

Nationally, those two professions are projected to be two of the top three fastest-growing occupations, adding an estimated 1 million new positions by 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Also, more older people are getting joint replacements and other medical treatments that require temporary in-home care, said Stephen Parente, a health economist at the Carlson School of Management.

“The rise of people getting joint replacements … it’s much higher now, mostly because the technology’s there,” Parente said.

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