What’s Really Propping Up The Economy

Business Week

Since 2001, the health-care industry has added 1.7 million jobs. The rest of the private sector? None

If you really want to understand what makes the U.S. economy tick these days, don’t go to Silicon Valley, Wall Street, or Washington. Just take a short trip to your local hospital. Park where you don’t block the ambulances, and watch the unending flow of doctors, nurses, technicians, and support personnel. You’ll have a front-row seat at the health-care economy.

For years, everyone from politicians on both sides of the aisle to corporate execs to your Aunt Tilly have justifiably bemoaned American health care — the out-of-control costs, the vast inefficiencies, the lack of access, and the often inexplicable blunders.

But the very real problems with the health-care system mask a simple fact: Without it the nation’s labor market would be in a deep coma. Since 2001, 1.7 million new jobs have been added in the health-care sector, which includes related industries such as pharmaceuticals and health insurance. Meanwhile, the number of private-sector jobs outside of health care is no higher than it was five years ago.

Sure, housing has been a bonanza for homebuilders, real estate agents, and mortgage brokers. Together they have added more than 900,000 jobs since 2001. But the pressures of globalization and new technology have wreaked havoc on the rest of the labor market: Factories are still closing, retailers are shrinking, and the finance and insurance sector, outside of real estate lending and health insurers, has generated few additional jobs.

Perhaps most surprising, information technology, the great electronic promise of the 1990s, has turned into one of the biggest job-growth disappointments of all time. Despite the splashy success of companies such as Google (GOOG ) and Yahoo! (YHOO ), businesses at the core of the information economy — software, semiconductors, telecom, and the whole gamut of Web companies — have lost more than 1.1 million jobs in the past five years. Those businesses employ fewer Americans today than they did in 1998, when the Internet frenzy kicked into high gear.

Read the whole thing.

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