Rural Health Care Equals Rural Jobs

by Tim Size, Executive Director, Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative, Sauk City

Beyond deceit and name calling on both sides, our recent election was about jobs. For some it was about not having a job. For many more, it was about the fear of losing one.

 

The election was also about huge government deficits. The stage is now set for a hard tug of war between job creation and deficit reduction. As politics and policies compete after the election, we who care about rural health must speak up.

 

We must say more often and more powerfully: “rural health care equals rural jobs.”

 

And not just in health care. People know that rural health means rural jobs in health care. People know that businesses are influenced in their relocation decisions by what health care is available locally. But many people don’t consider a major third effect.

 

A study by experts at the University of Wisconsin on “The Economic Value of Health Care in Sauk County, Wisconsin” is relevant to rural communities across the country. The study showed that:

 

Every two jobs created (or lost) in rural health care will cause the number of jobs in other local businesses to increase (or decrease) by one job.

 

Our country needs rural hospitals, doctors and other caregivers to do more, to do better and do it for less. This is a reality driven by an aging population and the need to be competitive globally. But for rural America, where our state, federal and private sector health care dollars are spent, it also matters.

 

Jobs in good part depend on the export of goods and services. The point here is that, in terms of job creation, rural health care is a major export of rural communities. Rural health providers are very much like a manufacturer or any other exporter because the health care provided to local residents is, more often than not, paid for by dollars from outside the community.

 

Yes, rural health dollars may have started as insurance premiums and taxes in the community, but they only come back if there are local health care providers there to attract them. The economic impact of exports on jobs does not depend on where the goods or service are consumed. It depends on where the money comes to pay for them.


The National Center for Rural Health Works at Oklahoma State University describes the mechanics in a study for St. James Parish in Louisiana. They use the example of closing a town’s only hospital.

 

“The hospital will no longer pay employees; dollars going to these households will stop. Likewise, the hospital will not purchase goods from other businesses; dollars going to these businesses will stop. This decreases income to more local households. As earnings decrease, these households decrease their purchases from local businesses. These businesses reduce their purchases of labor and other local goods and services. This is how the economic impact of losing a local hospital works its way throughout the entire local economy.”

 

All of us who care about rural health understand the critical connection between rural health and rural economic development. We need to make sure that message is clear in our state capitals and in Washington.

 

We who care about rural health must be heard–that the total impact of rural health is as much to keep and grow rural jobs, as it is to provide critically important health care locally.

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