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In a previous Data Story1 examining Rhode Island's economy, we found that Health Care and Social Assistance is both the largest employment sector in the state and the sector projected to add the most new jobs in upcoming years. This Data Story will look at the sector in more detail to better understand its role in our economy.
We start with the latest available wage data for all industries to see how this sector fits into RI's overall employment landscape. We then explore wages for Health Care and Social Assistance in detail, drilling down into individual job sectors to see where the wages actually go. Finally, we offer some comparative looks at health care wages in nearby states and at projected growth in different health care occupations nationally. Our analysis offers a detailed picture of the economic impact of this important job sector.
The first visual to your left shows the distribution of annual wages per job for all RI jobs in 2013, including full-time and part-time positions.2 For nearly half of all RI jobs, the annual wage was less than $25,000. This is far less per job than the Rhode Island average, which was $47,729 in 2013. Remember that the average wage encompasses the lowest and highest-paying jobs, so it can be skewed by a small number of atypical wages.3
Click on the second tab to see the industries in which RI workers earned wages in 2013. By far the largest proportion of RI jobs were in the Health Care and Social Assistance sector.
This graphic shows the distribution of annual wages for each job found in the Health Care and Social Assistance sector in 2013. About 45% of RI Health Care jobs paid less than $25,000. However, about a third paid between $25,000 and $50,000, which means that this sector provides a significant amount of middle-class jobs for Rhode Islanders.
The second graphic categorizes Health Care jobs by ability to provide a living wage. Using MIT's Living Wage Calculator for Rhode Island,4 we can see that 40.5% of these jobs do not provide a living wage for 1 adult. About 17.5% of RI Health Care jobs do provide a living wage for 1 adult, but not for a family (defined as 2 working adults with 2 children). About 42% of jobs in this sector do provide a family living wage or better.
How do jobs in Rhode Island's Health Care sector compare to similar jobs in our region? Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,6 we compare private sector average wages for each sub-sector. This graph shows that our state's compensation patterns aren't much different from the regional norm. Our Health Care jobs pay somewhat less than CT and MA, but our cost of living is also less.
However, Health Care jobs pay somewhat better in Rhode Island than in ME or VT, despite similar or greater costs of living in those states.7
Health Care jobs are projected to grow faster than many other occupations between 2012-22, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.8 This is certainly true in Rhode Island9 where Health Care is already one of the biggest employer in our state. Despite the low wages offered by many jobs in this sector, the national projections10 suggest that in-demand, high-paying Health Care careers will continue to become available even to those without a Bachelor's degree.
This chart groups Health Care occupations by the required education at the entry level, and shades them by projected growth. The length of the bars indicates the median pay. We can see that the vast majority of occupations requiring an Associate's degree or less are growing faster or much faster than average. Wages in some of these high-demand/moderate skill occupations (like Dental Hygienists and Radiation Therapists) are comparable to what one might expect with a Master's degree. or even a professional degree.
In our examination of the Health Care and Social Assistance sector of the RI economy, we had two major goals. The first was to establish an overview of the sector, to better understand how many jobs it provides and the wage distribution of those jobs. The second was to contextualize this information within regional and national Health Care employment trends. Our analysis offers information for those looking to enter this growing sector or move up from a lower-paying Health Care job to a higher-paying one.
Our key findings point to weaknesses we must confront as well as strengths on which we should build. Health Care is a major employer of RI workers, but a large proportion of those jobs are low-paying. Jobs that provide critical social services to our children and families pay little more than fast-food work. Skill development opportunities and preferential hiring could create career ladders for those starting out at the lower end of the Health Care wage spectrum, but looking to stay in the sector.
There are also many bright spots in our Health Care sector. In RI, Hospital jobs are fairly plentiful and offer good pay. Medical and diagnostic labs also offer good pay, but as of right now, we don't have many available positions in this industry group. We could invest more in developing Rhode Island's reputation as a destination for general and specialty hospital care as well as laboratory diagnostics.
We could also make better use of national projections about job growth in this sector to guide students and the unemployed toward the numerous high-demand/moderate-skill occupations that offer good wages. Even if those we educate and train don't end up working in RI, our state can better prepare them for the economic landscape they will face for the next decade or more.