The Recession's Effect on Hospital Registered Nurse Employment Growth

Peter I. Buerhaus PhD, RN, FAAN; David I. Auerbach PhD, MS


Nurs Econ. 2011;29(4):163-167. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


During the 2-year period from 2006–2008, employment of registered nurses (RNs) increased by nearly 250,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) RNs (Buerhaus, Auerbach, & Staiger, 2009). The increase occurred exclusively in hospitals and RNs over the age of 50 accounted for more than 100,000 of this growth. This burst in hospital RN employment was attributed largely to the effects of the economic recession, which "officially" began in December 2007 and resulted in job losses and increases in monthly unemployment rates through 2008. Because approximately 7 in 10 RNs are married, increases in overall unemployment imply many RN spouses' lost their jobs or feared they could be laid off. To ensure the economic welfare of their households, many RNs who were not working at the time, particularly married RNs, likely rejoined the nursing workforce. The magnitude of the 2-year increase in FTE hospital RN employment all but ended a national shortage of RNs that began a decade earlier in 1998 (Buerhaus, Staiger, & Auerbach, 2000).

With the release of new data for 2009 and 2010 and the persistence of high unemployment rates, we examine whether hospital RN employment continued to grow over this period, and whether older RNs continued to contribute disproportionately to the size of the hospital RN workforce. Before examining these trends, however, a brief review of the most recent recession is provided.


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