Total employment of registered nurses (RNs) dipped during the 1st quarter of 2016 with no apparent surge in retirements

The addition of new employment data from the Current Population Survey’s Basic Monthly files shows that during the first 3 months of 2016, total RN employment dropped by nearly 32,000, (measured in full-time equivalents or FTEs).

TotalFTE RNs

Source: Authors’ analysis of Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey

This dip in total RN employment comes even as total health care employment continued to grow through the first quarter of 2016 according to the Altarum Institute.[1]

When analyzed by major employment sector, total RN employment in hospital settings grew noticeably (52,000) during the first quarter of 2016.  More broadly, hospital RN employment remained at levels established in early 2014 (roughly 1.8 million), significantly above employment levels of roughly 1.6 million during the 2008-2012.  61% of RNs were employed in hospitals in the first quarter of 2016.  On the other hand, RN employment in non-hospital settings decreased by nearly 84,000 during the first quarter of 2016.

Total RNs by setting

Source: Authors’ analysis of Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey

Finally, with respect to the age composition of the FTE RN workforce, somewhat surprisingly, the number of FTE RNs aged 50 and over grew slightly again, surpassing the numbers of RNs aged 35-49. While the retirement of large numbers of baby boomer RNs is imminent, the data do not bear out decreasing employment among this age group.  The number of younger RNs (under age 35) held steady at roughly 800,000, suggesting that the surge in new workforce entrants seen over the last decade appears to be leveling off.

RNs by age

Source: Authors’ analysis of Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey

Quarterly data are compiled from the Current Population Survey basic monthly files, which are released with roughly a one-month delay. These data contain basic demographic and labor force variables for all respondents, as well as wage and hourly data for a portion of the respondents. Quarterly statistics are reported as an average of the three months’ values.