Healthcare, social assistance workers in desperate need of state support amid labor shortage

Wisconsin's labor shortages increased from October to November 2022, with more workers in healthcare, social assistance fields dropping out of the workforce

· Dec 5, 2022 Tweet

Ahmad Hamid/The Badger Herald

The Wisconsin Department of Labor Services determined that Wisconsin’s health and social assistance labor sector is shrinking. In October 2022 alone, the sector lost 4,200 jobs. Careers in this sector include healthcare employees, counselors and childcare workers. 

This trend, however, is in no way new. Employees in the health and social assistance sectors have been dropping out since before the pandemic. The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages and Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development indicate that from 2019 to 2021 Wisconsin lost approximately 11, 582 jobs in the health and social assistance sector. 

The job shortage issue is statewide and across multiple sectors. In all, Wisconsin faces a shortage of approximately 140,000 workers. 

Despite this trend, some particular labor sectors continue to see increases. Manufacturing, construction, transportation, warehouse and utility sectors gained 1,800 and 1,100 jobs, respectively. Additionally, white-collar professions like scientific and technical services also expanded by approximately 2,800 jobs.

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Despite specific labor expansions, Wisconsin lost about 2,200 jobs total from October to November. For many, these numbers are worrying. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also noted a similar trend in the labor force. The percentage of Wisconsinites in the workforce has decreased over the past year. Economists still believe that these changes in overall labor participation are simple fluctuations and do not predict a future recession for Wisconsin.

What is truly worth examining is the fields that consistently lose their employees.

The pandemic and its continued effects are likely culprits for these job losses. Healthcare and social assistance workers have been working 24/7 every single day since the start of the pandemic. Healthcare workers, in particular, indicate still feeling overwhelmed and overworked. For this reason, many nurses, social assistants and other healthcare employees left their careers.

A shortage of health and social assistance workers greatly impacts the public. Wisconsin families cannot secure adequate childcare because of staffing issues, and long-term care facilities have even longer waiting times for those who need extended support. 

If anything, these statistics show that Wisconsin’s labor priorities are not with healthcare and social assistance workers. Since the pandemic, Wisconsin has been focusing on increasing labor participation in agricultural and construction industries, which took a hit during the pandemic. Although healthcare workers remain important, the past several years show that they haven’t been considered the first priority in receiving state funds and support. 

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Wisconsin’s labor priorities do not need to change fully. Construction and agricultural industries should still receive attention and increases in their labor force, but more attention must be placed on the health and social assistance sector.

Healthcare careers have experienced shortages for months, and the amount of people entering those careers has not increased. Something needs to be done to support current and future healthcare workers to prevent them from continuing to drop out of the workforce. 

The Wisconsin Hospital Association released its 2022 Health Care Workforce Report, where it identified multiple factors to improve workforce retention in its field. The document gives recommendations to the state, including policy changes regarding workplace standards. 

Hopefully, if changes are implemented, and the focus is slightly shifted, Wisconsin will be able to slow its job loss rate across the state, particularly for workers in the health and social assistance sector.

Emily Otten ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in journalism.

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This article was published Dec 5, 2022 at 10:25 pm and last updated Dec 5, 2022 at 10:25 pm

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