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Healthcare Jobs and America’s Middle Class

A profound shift has occurred in the composition of the middle class as men working in construction and factories have shrunk as dramatically as heath care jobs have grown. Equally important, those jobs were predominantly filled by men, whereas the vast majority of the expansion in health care employment is by women.

In 1980, 1.4 million jobs in health care paid a middle-class wage: $40,000 to $80,000 a year in today’s money. Now, the figure is 4.5 million. The pay of registered nurses — now the third-largest middle-income occupation and one that continues to be overwhelmingly female has significantly increased over the past decade (NYT-healthcarewomen).

In the 1980’s, a man was overwhelming the head of a middle class family. Back then, more than a quarter of middle-income jobs were in manufacturing, a sector long dominated by men. Today, it is just 13 percent. The construction jobs created by the housing boom and then lost when the housing market fell in 2008 had accounted for a good number of those middle–income jobs. Even in the current housing recovery, most experts do not believe that construction employment will come anywhere close to the Great Recession housing “bubble” of the George W. Bush presidency for many years.

Health care and other industries that demand more education and training are overwhelming being filled by women. Although, it is important to note that health care remains a field with many good paying jobs that do require an education beyond an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree (HealthcareEducationRequirements). According to a very informative PEW study conducted in 2013, total family income is now higher when the mother in a two-parent family is the primary breadwinner. In 2011, median family income was nearly $80,000 for couples in which wife was the primary breadwinner, about $2,000 more than for couples when the husband was. Women now earn the bigger paycheck. In an almost complete reversal from just a few decades ago, the PEW survey found that most people now reject the idea that it is bad for a marriage if a wife out-earns her husband (PEWstudy).

But the public remains conflicted about the impact of full time working mothers on children. Even though 79% of the PEW respondents would not want women to return to their traditional role as homemakers, only 34 percent say children are just as well off if the mother works, while 76 percent think kids are just as well off if the father works. It is actually surprising that this percent was not much higher in relation to men given that it is a widely held belief in the US that men suffer a much greater blow to their self-esteem when they are out of work than do women.

It is important to note that the information in this blog relates strictly to married woman. The research on the considerable differences between full-time working married versus single moms is so striking and interesting that the topic will be addressed in the next blog.

Robert Hoyt, Ph.D.
President, Allied Health Professionals LLC

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