Blog: Trends Affecting Employment in Utah’s Health Care and Social Assistance Industry

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Blog: Trends Affecting Employment in Utah’s Health Care and Social Assistance Industry

By: Laura Summers

Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not reflect an institutional position of the Gardner Institute. We hope the opinions shared contribute to the marketplace of ideas and help people as they formulate their own INFORMED DECISIONS™.

This month, the Gardner Institute released its long-term projections for population and employment changes in Utah. The projections show employment in Utah’s health care and social assistance industry is expected to grow by close to 185,000 employees between 2020 and 2060, making it one of the largest drivers of employment growth in the state.

The projections for the health care and social assistance industry are modeled from national trends, taking into account local population growth. The projections team also connected with industry experts to ensure their model and outputs align with and reflect local industry dynamics and trends as appropriate. The dynamics and trends that emerged from these conversations can be summarized in five key points:

  1. Expansion and contraction of the health care and social assistance industry tend to follow population growth and changing health care needs. Significant expansions in health care and social assistance employment generally occur in city centers and areas with strong economic stability and population growth. This is illustrated by the growing number of new hospitals which recently opened or are expected to open in Utah and Washington counties—both of which are among Utah’s fastest-growing counties in terms of population growth.


  1. Recent federal and state policy changes have helped expand access to health care coverage, which positively impacts demand for health care services and may have an increasing effect on employment. Utah’s Medicaid expansion (which became effective January 2020), for example, is estimated to expand health care coverage to 70,000‒90,000 Utah residents. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) also expanded access to health care coverage for low- and middle-income individuals and families.


  1. Ongoing workforce shortages in the health care and social assistance industry could have a dampening effect on employment growth. Utah has long experienced health care–related workforce shortages that have reportedly been exacerbated by the state’s rapid population growth, provider burnout during COVID-19, and the “great resignation of 2021.”


  1. Rather than this resulting in declining employment for the industry, however, it is more likely that employees will shift between sectors within the industry. The impact of workforce shortages may not be visible at the industry level as workers are likely not to leave the industry itself, but to switch occupations or even subsectors within the industry. As a result, it is projected that the industry as a whole will continue to experience positive growth, while certain subsectors or health care occupations within a subsector could experience declines. Experts noted that Utah could also experience a shift in health care workers to other industries as ambulatory health care is increasingly being provided in non-traditional health care settings (e.g., Walmart, Amazon, CVS, etc.). While this shift wouldn’t necessarily impact overall health care employment, it could impact where these jobs are recorded from an industry perspective (i.e., retail, manufacturing, etc. vs. the health care industry).


  1. As Utah’s demographics and health care needs change, so will the sectors within the health care and social service industry that experience employment growth. For example, a growing emphasis is being placed on leveraging workers in the social assistance industry as the health care industry recognizes the importance of addressing social determinants of health. Utah’s growing older population could also impact the type of care that is needed within the state. For example, there could be increased need for employment in the home health care sector as more individuals prefer to remain in their homes as they age. Hospitals, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities could, respectively, experience a decreasing need for employment on a per-capita basis.

These points suggest that growth in Utah’s health care and social assistance industry will remain strong over time as Utah’s population continues to grow. However, it is expected that this growth will slightly moderate from previous projections. This is due to the expectation that workforce shortages will continue to impact employment growth in the short run, and growth will shift to different sectors within the industry in response to Utah’s changing demographics and health care needs in the long run.

Laura Summers is the senior health care analyst at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

2022-01-31T09:43:02+00:00January 31st, 2022|Blog, Economics and Public Policy, Health Care, Practice Areas|