February 24, 2016 - Despite a dip in Registered Nurse Employment in the Fourth Quarter, Overall Employment during 2015 Increased by Nearly 60,000

The addition of new employment data from the Current Population Survey’s Basic Monthly files shows the nation’s total full-time RN workforce decreased by nearly 37,000 FTEs in the 4th quarter of 2015.

total fte rn


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

Despite the drop in overall 4th quarter RN employment, at the end of 2015 the total RN FTE workforce increased by an estimated 59,000 over 2014 levels.  At the end of 2015, the size of the nation’s FTE RN workforce stood at approximately 2,935,000.

4th quarter and year-end employment by major settings 

As shown in the next figure, when 4th quarter 2015 employment is broken into hospital and non-hospital settings, employment growth was stronger innon-hospital settings, increasing by nearly 28,000 FTEs.  In contrast RN FTE employment growth in hospitals slid during the last quarter of 2015, falling by roughly 64,000.

For all of 2015, however, net hospital employment growth of FTE RNs increased by a healthy 65,000, while net employment growth in non-hospital settings fell by almost 6,000 FTE RNs.

Shortages of RNs anyone?

During the fourth quarter of 2015 there have been growing media reports of shortages of RNs throughout the country.  However, these RN employment data for both the 4th quarter and for 2015 overall do not align with a widespread national shortage.  Moreover, an examination of changes in inflation adjusted RN wages between 2014 and 2015 shows essentially no increase in wages, which suggests that widespread RN shortages were either not apparent or, if they existed in parts of the country, employers may have been using non-wage incentives to increase RN employment.

total fte by sector


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

Finally, with respect to the age composition of the FTE RN workforce, both the numbers of younger RNs (under age 35) and middle aged RNs (between 35-49) decreased during the 4th  quarter of 2015.  Employment of RNs over age 50 increased.   In fact, the number of RNs over age 50 (1,044,000) now exceeds the number of middle aged RNs (1,038,199).

fte rn 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.


Buerhaus, Peter, Auerbach, David, and Staiger, Douglas