One out of every nine jobs in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area is in the health care industry, more than the national average and evidence that people in the region are looking to the area's largest city for medical help.
The metro area's estimated 50,000 health jobs are a stabilizing force for the region's economy because they depend largely on steady demographic factors such as the aging population and less on rapid business cycles that can create unemployment bumps.
Of the Omaha area's 450,000 jobs, 11.1 percent are in health care — doctors, nurses, technicians, home health workers, support staff and related occupations, a report by the Brookings Institution said. That compares with an average 10.3 percent for the 100 metro areas, the report said.
Des Moines metropolitan area health care workers make up 9.5 percent of that area's workforce, the report said.
Expansion by Omaha's hospitals, research centers, clinics, care centers and medical schools has made health services one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the state, said University of Nebraska at Omaha economist Christopher Decker.
“Omaha certainly has benefited from that,” Decker said. “It seems to be a place where a lot of people come for health care. It does bode well in terms of demand, based on demographics alone. It supports some job growth.”
Nationally, the health care industry employs 14.5 million people, the Brookings report said. Although physicians are among the best-paid people in the nation, health care workers include people at all levels of education, skills and pay.
The report was written by Martha Ross, a fellow at Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program in Washington, D.C., and Siddharth Kulkarni. a research assistant.
Health care is a growing part of the economy, Ross said, adding 2.6 million jobs nationwide over the past decade, a 22.7 percent growth rate that is 10 times faster than the average for other industries.
Of the 100 largest metro areas, the share of health care jobs held by the industry ranges from 7 percent in Las Vegas to 20 percent in McAllen, Texas.
In every city, health care jobs are a larger share of the workforce now than before the 2008-09 recession, the report said. That's because health care jobs recovered more rapidly than others.
The Omaha area has added 2,638 health care jobs since the bottom of the recession, 16 percent of the city's job recovery during that time, the report said. Nationally, health care jobs have accounted for 13 percent of recovered jobs. The Des Moines area added about 1,000 health care jobs during that time, or 5.9 percent of recovered jobs.
“There's a fair amount of investment and, to be blunt, money flowing into medical services,” said Decker, the UNO economist. Omaha's two medical schools are a plus, and success in research and other fields has attracted professionals to the Omaha area.
“It's got some very, I would argue, first-class, first-rate medical facilities that a lot of cities might not necessarily enjoy,” he said. “I think Omaha's in a pretty good position. As long as Omaha can maintain a competitive cost position in terms of health care services relative to areas nearby, it should be OK.”
He said the health care sector adds important diversity to the city's economy. “One of the reasons why Omaha doesn't experience the rapid booms and dramatic busts that some cities do is that we have a very diversified industrial base,” including transportation, manufacturing, finance and health care. “You limit the cyclical swings,” he said.