The Health Care Explosion
The general population is expected to increase by 23.9 million from 2004 to 2014. A large portion of the current population is composed of members of the baby-boom generation. These are the 76 million children born after World War II, from 1946 to 1964. By 2014 this group of adults will be 50 to 68 years of age. As such, this large group will be close to retirement or retired by 2014.
The generation following the baby boomers is known as the baby-bust generation. After 1964, births declined dramatically, accounting for current and predicted future shortages in the prime-age workforce.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics studies the relationships between the demands for goods and services, the labor force, and the demographics of the population to understand the past and present trends as well as to predict future opportunities. Their findings indicate an explosion in health care jobs, now and in the near future.
From 1965 to 1976 births slowed to 3.4 million per year. This equates to 37.4 million births, or roughly half of the total births in the baby-boom generation. As baby boomers retire, there are only half as many people available to move into their vacant positions, and the younger workforce — even considering the Echo Boom (the children of baby boomers) generation — leaves huge gaps in the numbers of workers entering professions.
In some fields, retirement for the baby boomers will not come until they reach their seventies or eighties, if then. But in the health care industry, this isn't expected to hold true. The physical and emotional demands of the health care profession will take their toll, and as we have already begun to see in several fields, such as nursing and therapies, retirement will come early to these workers.
The physical demands such as prolonged standing, walking, lifting, assisting, and transferring patients become more difficult for the older health care worker. Strength and stamina are as important to safety as proper body mechanics, and age is not kind when it comes to either.
Many fields are exploring options to assist older health care workers transition into other positions such as desk jobs, management, teaching, and mentoring in order to keep them working in the field to lessen the critical effects of shortages. Their knowledge base and level of experience are invaluable, and finding creative solutions to keeping them as active members of the profession is an important challenge.
As the baby-boom generation ages, they will begin to need more and more health care services. There is already a shift to preventative care and promoting wellness that has increased the demand for health care services. This combined with the demands that will be exacerbated by aging, such as arthritis, hypertension, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, and stroke, will also increase the demand for health care services.
This demand will cause an increase in the demand for health care workers. For some providers the demand will be greater than for others. Predictions are based on data gathered by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.