Demographics fuel health care’s growth

Although those working in the private health-care sector make up one of the largest groups of workers in New Hampshire, studies show that there still may not be enough caregivers in the coming decades.

The New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies recently released its 2009 “New Hampshire Healthcare Dashboard.” One of its indicators shows the number of primary care physicians in the Granite State has dropped by more than 30 percent — from 640 doctors in 2003 to 440 in 2008, the most recent figures available.

Furthermore, the number of primary care physicians per 1,000 residents showed a rate of 1.37, slightly higher than the nation’s average at 1.30. By comparison, Massachusetts, the country’s best according to the report, had 1.78 primary care doctors per 1,000 residents.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, preliminary 2008 data show that there are some 81,245 people employed in New Hampshire in the NAICS 62 classification for Health Care and Social Assistance. This represents about 17 percent growth from the 67,289 employees recorded in 2001.

These data compare well with the state’s Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau, which showed 79,152 employees in the Health Care and Social Assistance category for 2007, as compared to 67,227 in 2001.

Wages in health-care occupations represent some of the state’s highest and lowest, depending on the position. Anesthesiologists, for example, can earn an annual mean wage of $220,205, according to the state’s Covered Employment and Wages Survey for May 2008. By comparison, home health aides earn about $23,238 a year.

The average 2007 weekly wage under the Health Care and Social Assistance category was $820, or about $39,360 per year.

According to a 2007 report from the American Hospital Association, the most recent available, found more than 29,000 people worked at hospitals in New Hampshire, with salaries and benefits totaling nearly $1.8 billion.

According to the report, two jobs were created for every hospital job in New Hampshire, as hospital employees use their wages to purchase goods and services, which in turn creates income and jobs for other businesses. In fact, according to the report, for every dollar spent by hospitals more than $2 in additional business activity was supported in the community.

Growing need

In the coming years, careers in health care are expected to be among the fastest-growing in New Hampshire.

“Health-care and social assistance employment is on track to nearly match the retail trade as the sector employing the most workers,” according to the Employment and Labor Market Information Bureau’s “New Hampshire Employment Projections by Industry and Occupation 2006-2016” report. “At a growth rate of 30.9 percent over the 10-year projection period, employment will increase by 24,161 jobs by 2016, bringing total employment to 102,411. This sector employs one out of every nine workers in New Hampshire.”

In fact, the report finds the state’s fastest-growing occupation will be the home health aide — more than 1,300 new home health aide positions are expected to be created in the state by 2016, a growth of 59 percent.

By contrast, computer software engineer positions are expected to increase by 421, or 19.5 percent, by 2016 and editor positions increase by just one position, a growth of 0.2 percent

The onerous burden of health-care costs, however, might actually work against career growth, despite the aging population and positive projections.

The state had some 1,315,000 residents in 2008, as estimated by the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning, and the Granite State’s population is expected to grow to 1,490,379 by 2030, with more than 29 percent of residents 65 or older.

“Employment in health-related industries is growing, and is promising to continue to grow as the baby boomer population ages. The interesting, unanswered question is how long will this engine continue to go if the ability to pay evaporates?” write researchers in the Employment and Labor Market Information Bureau’s “Vital Signs 2009: New Hampshire Economic and Social Indicators.”

Health-care spending per person in 2008 was $8,235, as determined by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies — 5 percent higher than the national average of $7,841 and a $452 higher than the $7,783 spent per capita in New Hampshire in 2007.

Cindy Kibbe can be reached at