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10 places where health care ate the economy

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The Census Bureau has just released a batch of American Community Survey data for 2015.

Agents and brokers who need data for web content, bid packages or internal planning purposes can go to the survey site to get free, public-domain information on about 500 U.S. geographic areas with a population of 65,000 or more.

If you want data on where the old people are, where the young people are, or where people have good jobs, that’s a great place to go.

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The American Community Survey data collection for 2015 is also a place to go for data on how many people had health coverage in 2015, a year when the Affordable Care Act public exchange system and ACA individual health insurance market rules were still mostly in the joyous honeymoon phase.

The data collection is, finally, an interesting place to go for another purpose: Getting data to illustrate one reason that overhauling the U.S. health care delivery system is so difficult.

Health care is a haven for people who are willing to put up with some stress in exchange for having a reasonably stable, reasonably well-paid job in communities that may not have all that many good jobs.

Maybe health care could operate much more efficiently. But, if it did, where would all of the extra doctors, nurses, office assistants and phlebotomists go?

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The American Community Survey employment table gives health care and technical services employment data for about 500 “geographies,” including metropolitan areas (big cities), micropolitan areas (small cities), and combined statistical areas (combinations of several towns). Many of the geographies on the list overlap with others.

But most of the health care and technical services workers in the statistics listed actually work in health care. The percentage of workers in that sector in 2015 listed ranged from a low of 2.4 percent, in Branson, Missouri, up to a high of 15 percent. The median share of workers in the health care sector was about 6 percent.

Here’s a look at the 10 metropolitan areas in the table with the highest percentage of workers who seem likely to have a personal stake in health care employment stability, along with a sampling of videos that show what those communities are like. One thing that’s striking about the videos is how quiet an employment sponge the health care sector often is. Not all of the videos shown here focus on the local economy, but, even in the videos that do have an economic focus, the narrators and interviewees rarely think to mention the local hospitals, nursing homes, clinics or home health care agencies.

Traditionally, Ocean City, N.J., has been much better known for its beach than for its health care services sector. (Video: YouTube)

10. Ocean City, New Jersey

Share of workers in health care and technical jobs: 9 percent.

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The Victoria, Texas, metropolitan area has a higher share of its workers in the health care and technical services sectors than any other metropolitan area in Texas. (Video: YouTube)

9. Victoria, Texas

Share of workers in health care and technical jobs: 9.1 percent. 

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Cape Girardeau, Mo., sees itself as an attraction for tourists interested in Mississippi River steamboats. (Video: YouTube)

8. Cape Girardeau, Missouri-Illinois

Share of workers in health care and technical jobs: 9.2 percent.

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Iowa City, Iowa, is home to a major university and a major research hospital complex. (Video: YouTube)

7. Iowa City, Iowa

Share of workers in health care and technical jobs: 9.7 percent. 

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Gainesville, Fla., is another university town with a teaching hospital. (Video: YouTube)

6. Gainesville, Florida

Share of workers in health care and technical jobs: 10.3 percent. 

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The makers of this video talk about old industrial buildings in Johnson City, Tenn., that could appeal to entrepreneurs, but not about the surrounding community’s high health care employment numbers. (Video: YouTube)

5. Johnson City, Tennessee

Share of workers in health care and technical jobs: 10.4 percent. 

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The Huntington, W.Va., area has some of the highest health care employment figures in the country, and the city does, briefly, mention its local hospitals and the medical school at a local university, Marshall University, in this promotional video. (Video: YouTube)

4. Huntington-Ashland, West Virginia-Kentucky-Ohio

Share of workers in health care and technical jobs: 10.5 percent. 

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The Morgantown (W.Va.) Convention and Visitors Bureau talks at length about its law firms, its motorcycle industry and its local university in this promotional video, but it mentions its medical facilities only briefly. (Video: YouTube)

3. Morgantown, West Virginia

Share of workers in health care and technical jobs: 12 percent. 

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Here’s another community promotional video that talks about matters such as parks, museums and covered bridges but leaves out any mention of a sector that accounts for about 13 percent of the community’s jobs. (Video: YouTube)

2. Bloomsburg-Berwick, Pennsylvania

Share of workers in health care and technical jobs: 12.7 percent.

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The Rochester (Minn.) Convention & Visitors Bureau, rahrahrochester, boasts on the landing page for this page that Rochester is the home of the Mayo Clinic. In the video itself, the organization does mention that Rochester is a place where people come for care, but only toward the end, and only briefly. (Video: YouTube)

1. Rochester, Minnesota

Share of workers in health care and technical jobs: 15 percent.


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