Objectives: The purpose of this study was to elucidate the social and economic impact of health sector employment.
Methods: US medical care employment was analyzed for each year between 1968 and 1993, with data from the March Current Population Survey.
Results: Between 1968 and 1993, medical care employment grew from 4.32 million to 11.40 million persons, accounting for 5.7% of all jobs in 1968 and 8.4% in 1993. Today, one seventh of employed women work in medical care; they hold 78% of medical care jobs. One fifth of all employed African-American women work in medical care. African-Americans hold 15.5% of jobs in the health sector: they hold 24.1% of the jobs in nursing homes, 15.9% of the jobs in hospitals, but only 5.6% of the jobs in practitioners' offices. Hispanics constitute 6.4% of medical care employees. Real wages rose 25% to 50% between 1968 and 1993 for most health occupations. Wages of registered nurses rose 86%; physicians' incomes rose 22%. Wages of nursing home workers were far lower than those of comparable hospital workers, and the gap has widened. In 1993, 11.7% of all medical care workers lacked health insurance and 597 000 lived in poverty.
Conclusions: Hospital cuts and the continuing neglect of long-term care exacerbate unemployment and poverty among women and African Americans.