This study by Bhandari et al. evaluates the impact of the pandemic on the U.S. health care labor market. The study found that unemployment rates increased dramatically for all health care industries, hitting unprecedented highs for dentists’ offices (41.3%), outpatient centers (10.5%), physician offices (9.5%), and home health (7.8%). Lower paid workers experienced the hardest hit and faced persistently high unemployment, including 10.5% for technologists/technicians and 12.6% for health care aides, compared to much smaller impacts on nurses (4%), physicians/surgeons (1.4%), and pharmacists (0.7%). While in prior economic downturns (e.g., 2009 recession), the health care industry has appeared to be less vulnerable due to inelastic demand for most services, the pandemic presented different circumstances due to reductions and restrictions related to elective and non-emergent medical procedures, which dramatically decreased revenue and spurred layoffs, furloughs, and temporary separations. These findings expose significant weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the health care system, including disproportionate impacts on more vulnerable lower-wage workers that are critical to the operation of many health care settings.
While the pandemic’s impacts on frontline health care workers have been reported in many studies (including the above), less attention has been paid to effects on public health professionals. This study by Stone et al. assesses the effects of COVID-19 response on the U.S. public health workforce with respect to issues such as mental and physical health, burnout, and short- and long-term career decisions. The authors surveyed workers in August and September 2020 and found that two-thirds (66.3%) reported burnout, with higher likelihood among those with more work experience and those working in academic settings. Other symptoms were also widely reported, including anxiety disorder (41.0%) and depressive disorder (29.1%). Respondents also reported decreased likelihood of staying in the field, with only 61.6% planning to remain for 3 or more years as (compared to 85.2% planning to do so as of January 2020). Among other factors cited as potential contributors to anxiety, depression, and burnout, the study notes the role of health officials who resigned or were removed due to politicization of public health and public health control and mitigation measures and an increase in abuse and personal threats, as well as fear of such attacks.