Blog Post

Growing Demand, but Shrinking Supply of Long-term Care Workers

April 21, 2016

Health care has been, and will continue to be, the fastest growing employment sector, but many of those job openings may be difficult to fill, according to Bianca Frogner, associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Washington and director of the Center for Health Workforce Studies. She recently gave a talk at Healthforce Center entitled “Who is Entering/Exiting Health Care, and Why Do We Care?”

She cares, in part, because she is poised to be the caretaker of her 70-year-old parents, who are healthy now, but who may need help from long-term care workers in the future. Her research on this under-studied segment of the workforce concerns her.

Home health aides are exiting the market at a greater rate than they are entering it. Increased incidence of disability offers one potential explanation for the exodus. Without proper training, many of these workers are getting disabled on the job. Another potential explanation is that this group of workers struggles to support themselves and their families through this low-wage work:

Type of Health Care Worker % At or Below the Poverty Line
Home health 20.3 %
Nursing care facilities 12.8 %
Residential care facilities 12.6 %

“They can’t make ends meet this way,” Frogner said. “I think we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.”

Frogner’s research shows that the highest growth health occupations are personal care aides and home health aides. She projects that the future health care workforce will be increasingly female, young, racially/ethnically diverse, not US-born, at or below the poverty level and at a low level of educational attainment. In another study conducted with Healthforce Center, Frogner found that employment opportunities in long-term care are expected to surpass those of other U.S. sectors.

Many of the stories we hear about the health workforce focus on highly trained and highly skilled occupations like doctors and nurses, Bianca said, but focus needs to shift toward some of the hidden workforce who will continue to take care of the Baby Boomers as they age. “We don’t want people to come into health care and get turned off to it,” Frogner said. “We need to offer home health care and other long-term care professions as part of sustainable career paths, and make it clear how people can get from point A to Point B.”

To learn more about Bianca Frogner’s robust body of work, visit the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Washington.

Bianca FrognerBianca Frogner, PhD is an associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine and director of the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Washington. She is a NIH-trained health economist with expertise in health workforce, labor economics, health spending, health insurance, international health systems and welfare reform.