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Job growth on the rise in local health care industry

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Today, close to 15 percent of residents in the greater Stockton area work in the health care field — a number expected to increase with adoption of the Affordable Care Act and a shift to at-home care.

Among the fastest-growing occupations in San Joaquin County is home health aides, the state Employment Development Department reports, just ahead of physical therapist assistants and physical therapist aides.

This news comes with the recent release of a Brookings Institution economic recovery survey, which found that the health care industry supports a higher share of jobs now than it did before the recession struck, and that it is playing an increasingly prominent role in regional economies.

As Lodi’s second-largest employer, Lodi Health, which is part of the Stockton metropolitan area, has steadily added positions over the last few years.

In 2009, for example, there were 1,314 jobs; last year’s financial report showed 1,331.

The hospital was just one of more than 160 health care and social assistance establishments in Lodi that provided 2,706 jobs before the recession, making health care the third highest-ranking employment sector in town, behind manufacturing and retail trade.

By 2012, health care had moved to the No. 1 spot, according to U.S. Census data.

While the rest of the U.S. economy struggles to return to pre-recession employment levels, the number of employees in the health care industry grew from 11.9 million to 14.5 million, a 22.7 percent increase, between the first quarters of 2003 and 2013. Employment in other industries grew just 2.1 percent over this time period.

Nationally, one out of every 10 employees now works in the health care industry, which also accounted for 13 percent of job growth in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas over the course of the most recent employment recovery.

“Even though the health care field is in the midst of major changes, it remains a labor-intensive enterprise,” Martha Ross, Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program fellow, said in a press release earlier this month. “Employment will only grow as Baby Boomers age and are more likely to use health care services. In a national economy that is still 2.5 million jobs short of its pre-recession peak, health care is a bright spot.”

The health services sector was the only private sector to experience consistent job growth throughout the recession, adding 27,500 jobs per year throughout the state, according to a similar report released by University of the Pacific Business Forecasting Center in May.

Economic forecasters at Pacific believe statewide health care employment will continue consistent gains throughout this year.

In 2010, the center predicted health care — including hospitals, physicians, dental offices and nursing homes — was the fastest-growing private industry in San Joaquin County and would soon surpass manufacturing to become No. 1.

Home health aides, veterinary technologists/technicians and diagnostic medical sonographers lead the list of health care occupations expected to grow the most over the next decade nationwide, according to new research from CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists International.

EMSI, CareerBuilder’s data arm, gathers and integrates economic, labor market, demographic and education data from dozens of government and private-sector sources, creating a database that includes both published data and detailed estimates throughout the United States.

In San Joaquin County, the massive new prison hospital south of Stockton is seen as a “growth driver,” according to Jeff Michael, director of Pacific’s Business Forecasting Center.

The California Health Care Facility prison hospital plans to hire 2,400 people this year, some of those likely from Lodi.

All jobs in the county are expected to expand by 2.6 percent this year.

“We are projecting the unemployment rate in (San Joaquin) will finally dip below 10 percent in 2017, after a decade in double digits,” Michael said.

San Joaquin’s unemployment peaked above 17 percent three years ago, but it expected to average 13.5 percent this year.

California’s unemployment rate is expected to be 9.4 percent.

The Modesto Bee contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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