Nursing Projected to Lead Employment Growth over Next Decade

Nursing will add 580,000 jobs to America's economy by 2018, according to federal projections, while retirements from the profession will bring the total number of jobs to fill to more than 1 million. But will there be as many nurses as jobs?

    • January 28, 2010

Nursing is poised to add more jobs to the nation’s economy over the next decade than any other single profession, according to new projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). By 2018, BLS reports, more than 580,000 new jobs for registered nurses will be created, with an additional 460,000 jobs for home health care workers. Together the two professions will account for nearly 7 percent of all new jobs created in the United States during the period.

In all, BLS predicts that the number of nursing jobs will grow from 2.62 million in 2008, the beginning of the measurement period, to 3.20 million in 2018—a 22 percent increase. The number of home health aide jobs will grow even faster, at a 50 percent rate, from 920,000 to 1.38 million during the same period. An additional 276,000 jobs will be created for nursing aides, orderlies and attendants, according to the study, while 376,000 jobs will be created for personal and home care aides. The four professions together are expected to account for nearly 1.7 million new jobs, more than 11 percent of all new jobs likely to be created over the course of the decade.

The BLS projections do not address whether enough trained nurses will be available to the fill the jobs. Experts have long predicted growth in demand for nurses, although with less specificity than the BLS projections offer. The BLS predicts, for example, that 458,000 nurses will leave the profession during the decade, bringing the total number of available nursing jobs—including both newly created jobs and jobs left vacant by nurses who leave the profession—to 1.04 million.

Filling those million-plus openings with qualified nurses is the challenge confronting the profession and the nursing schools that support it. Various initiatives, many created and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, are under way to address the problem, including programs aimed at keeping nurses in the profession longer. But a major focus is expanding the capacity of nursing schools so that they will be able to produce enough graduates to keep up with surging demand.

In an interview with National Public Radio, BLS economist Roger Moncarz highlighted one important recruiting advantage that nursing has over other professions—salary. The median wage for a registered nurse, Moncarz says, is $62,400, nearly double the median pay for all other occupations. In addition, he observes, entry-level registered nurses need only three years of post-secondary education.