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


Employment growth and changes in age composition during recent recessions.Table 2 shows changes in average national annual unemployment rates and number of FTE RNs employed in hospitals over the past decade. Since 2001, hospital RN employment increas ed in all but 3 years, expanding over the decade by an estimated 407,000 FTEs. However, most of the growth occurred in the years when national unemployment rates were increasing. For example, following the recession in 2001, which resulted in increasing unemployment rates for the next 2 years, hospital RN employment increased nearly 185,000 during 2002 and 2003. Later in the decade RN employment grew even more rapidly when the most recent recession began and unemployment rates increased, with hospitals adding an estimated 243,000 RNs during 2007 and 2008. Despite persistent high unemployment rates during the last 2 years of the decade, hospital RN employment "ping-ponged," first decreasing in 2009 by nearly 20,000 FTEs and then rebounding substantially in 2010 when em ployment increased by just under 40,000 FTEs.

Since the mid 1990s, RNs over the age of 50 have been the fastest growing age group in the nursing workforce, reflecting the aging of the large cohort of baby boom RNs born between 1946 and 1964. According to CPS data, in 2010, RNs over age 50 represented 34% of the total FTE RN workforce. Table 3 prov4ides data derived from the CPS on the age composition of RNs employed in hospitals over the past decade. As expected, the greatest growth in hospital employment occurred among RNs over age 50, increasing substantially in all but 2 years (2006 and 2010). Overall, older RNs accounted for an estimated 247,000 FTEs, or about 60% of the total increase in hospital-employed FTE RNs. With respect to middle-age RNs (35–49), who are the largest age group of hospital-employed RNs, FTE employment bounced up and down over most of the decade and by 2010 had increased by less than 11,000 compared to the number employed in 2001. Employment growth among younger RNs (those less than age 35) grew by about 50,000 from 2001–2007, but then increased at a faster rate during the next 3 years for a total net expansion of an estimated 151,000 over the decade. In 2010, all of the growth (41,000) in hospital RN employment occurred among young er RNs.


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