Health Care

Health care work boosts Fresno's employment rebound

Jobs in the health care field represent a larger share of employment in the Fresno area than they did before the recession and are helping to lead an employment rebound, a national economic study reported Monday.

The report released by the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution indicates that of about 6,500 jobs gained in Fresno County since the depths of the recession, more than one-third have been in health care -- a field that has long been considered a growth industry as the population grows older.

But while the average wage for many job categories in the wide-ranging health care field are higher than the regional average wage of all workers, the study shows there are thousands in "support" jobs such as aides and assistants for whom the average wage is well below par in Fresno.

What's happening in Fresno is also happening nationwide, according to Brookings researchers. In nearly all of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., the health care industry has boosted job recovery, co-authors Martha Ross and Siddharth Kulkarni wrote. "In each of the 100 largest metro areas, health care today represents a higher share of jobs than before the recession struck."

But among California's large metro areas, Fresno ranked the highest in the proportion of health care jobs as a percentage of all jobs that have been added to the local economy since the recession. Only four metro regions nationwide ranked ahead of Fresno's 34.6%, the Brookings data showed.

In the first quarter of this year, health care jobs represented 94 out of every 1,000 jobs in the Fresno area, compared to a pre-recession peak of 84 out of every 1,000 jobs.

That upward trend is expected to continue, said Blake Konczal, executive director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board, as more provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act -- including requirements for health insurance coverage -- begin to take hold.

"The fact is that just with people who are insured now, there is an insufficient supply of qualified health care workers," Konczal said. "Adding millions more people to those who are covered means, in a classic supply-and-demand fashion, that people who have health care skills will be in even higher demand."

A 2012 employment survey by the Fresno Regional WIB reported that local health industry executives anticipated needing almost 3,700 new employees by the end of 2015.

Not all of those are going to be high-paying jobs, however.

The WIB survey reported that the highest health care wages are commanded by physicians and dentists, with hourly salaries ranging upwards of $80 an hour. At the opposite end of the scale are home health aides and physical therapy aides, where hourly pay may be $10 or less per hour.

"The home health aide is a tricky designation because a lot of those are not full-time jobs," Konczal said. "Some of those workers are people who are getting reimbursed for taking care of their own family members. That makes it harder to glean solid black-and-white data."

The Brookings study estimated the average wage of a worker in Fresno County at about $41,200 a year. By contrast, the average wage among nearly 16,000 health-care workers -- doctors, dentists, chiropractors, nurses and others with advanced professional certifications and licenses -- was $83,400 a year.

Among about 8,300 workers in health care support occupations such as orderlies, nursing, psychiatric and home health aides, therapy assistants, massage therapists and others, the average wage in Fresno County was about $28,800.