Hospital employment dips slightly, while outpatient demand increases

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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that the number of hospital jobs declined by 700 in March 2008 for the first time since 2004, against the total hospital work force of 4.71 million.

The small decline--less than one-tenth of one percent--demonstrated that demand for hospital services continues to be relatively resistant to economic declines. However, other Labor Bureau statistics highlight a darker picture for the long-term fortunes of hospitals.

The entire healthcare sector picked up a net increase of 16,500 jobs, with most of this coming from the ambulatory services sector. For example, physicians' offices added a net of 3,200 workers. By contrast, the overall U.S. economy shed 663,000 jobs in March, with the national unemployment rate ending the month at 8.5 percent.

As reflected in the numbers for March 2008, hospital employment declined by a tick while overall employment in healthcare increased in spite of the economic recession, demonstrating two trends in healthcare. First, demand for health services during this recession remains robust enough that hospitals continue to need almost all their workers. Second, growth in outpatient demand for services continues to outstrip growth in demand for inpatient services.