Economic Development News & Insight


Is health care the new job of choice for the middle class?

/ February 26, 2015

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Is health care the new job of choice for the middle class?

The stereotypical view of the middle class worker used to be the factory worker picking up his lunchbox and heading out to a regular shift at the factory.  What is becoming evident now is that the world of employment has now changed, and the stereotypical view of the middle class has changed along with it.  What used to be a world dominated by men is beginning to change, and while there is certainly still inequality between the genders, it seems the growth of the health care industry will feature a shift in the middle class as it is an occupation dominated by women.

The advantage of modern medicine is that humans are able to live longer.  The average lifespan of a person in North America is significantly longer than it was even just a century ago.  Of course, with that development comes people that require more and more medical assistance as they become older.  New diseases and conditions have seen the health care industry grow in size as the baby boomer generation continues to move towards the retirement age.  Nursing has became the occupation that dominates the middle class, it is an occupation that is currently dominated by women, and in many cases women involved in nursing are out earning their male counterparts in the previously more common middle class jobs.  A nurse in the U.S. may work long shifts, but also earns close to thirty dollars per hour depending on their location.  That kind of earning far outweighs the earnings of many men traditionally employed in factory or labor based jobs.  There has been a rise in those involved in the health care profession, as the number of people earning a middle class wage in health care has risen from 1.5 million to 4.5 million since the 1980’s.  While men have stayed tied to more traditional jobs, women have adapted, entering an industry that desperately needs more skilled workers.  This isn’t to say that women have an easier time in the workplace, 7 in 10 jobs that pay over $80,000 per year still go to men.  What is evident though is that the middle class image is beginning to change from a blue collar man and his lunch box to a health care professional in their workplace scrubs.

Not only has this reconfigured the jobs sphere, but it is also beginning to reconfigure the way culture is shaped.  Middle class families are beginning to have women that are the main breadwinners for the family.  In the health care industry, women work longer hours, earn a bigger paycheck, and have better opportunity for career advancement.  However, today’s culture has not yet caught up to this shift, and the rise of the female breadwinner has seen tensions begin to rise as traditional cultural values when it comes to income are challenged.  What is taking people a long time to recognize is that women have better navigated the recent changes in the job universe, with women moving quickly to secure jobs that require more education as the percentage of women securing an education is rising, compared to the male percentage which is going in the opposite direction.

As the years progress, jobs like nursing are likely to only become more important as the population continues to age.  Economists predict that the health care and social assistance industries will take up twenty percent of consumer spending.  By 2022 the health care industry is expected to add at least 5 million more jobs as the industry will only continue to grow.  As the industry grows, women continue to see a rise in middle class employment, where previously they made up only 25 percent of middle class earners, they now make up 44 percent.  With a significantly larger amount of responsibility placed on nurses in modern times, the need for them will only continue to rise as Health Care will continue to become the dominant industry that employees a majority of middle class workers.

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