By Anne Thompson Chief environmental correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/26/2004 10:08:06 AM ET 2004-03-26T15:08:06

Taking care of the nation's sick has created a healthy job market.  Unlike much of the rest of the economy, the health care industry is adding jobs — 234,000 during the past year, and there’s no end in sight.

With baby boomers aging and demanding more and more services, this, economists say, is a growth industry.

Bill Powanda, vice president of Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., is trying to keep up. “We've seen a 25 percent increase in admissions and a 50 percent increase in outpatient business over the past four years, which has prompted hiring on our part,” he said.

Now Powanda is trying to fill 30 positions.  Nurses, physical therapists and lab technicians are all areas with shortages that give workers like staff pharmacist Mary Tarasuik plenty of options. “I have headhunters calling me all the time for jobs within the state and nationwide,” Tarasuik said.

And those offers come with lucrative extra benefits, says radiographer and new hire Kevin Hill. “It's very competitive,” Hill said. “They're willing to up salaries.  They're willing to negotiate for days, fighting back and forth for the same tech.”

And the positions available are not just the ones that require years of education and specialized degrees.  They cover all skill levels, helping ease the pain of job losses in other industries such as manufacturing in cities like Derby.

“We also see high vacancy levels and trouble recruiting in areas like medical record coders. And a looming challenge, I think, is going to be in information services,” Powanda added.

Health care spending makes up more than 15 percent of America’s economy — double what it did just 30 years ago.  It is a growing need that buffers the industry from economic cycles.

“It's not impervious to recession,” said Economy.com’s chief economist, Dr. Mark Zandi. “It weakened during the 2001 downturn.  But it is as recession-proof an industry as there is.”

It is an industry with jobs vital to the health of Americans and the health of the nation's economy.

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