Health care industry is a major employer in rural Minnesota

By Kelly Asche

April, 2020

Many industries across Minnesota are being impacted by the COVID-19 epidemic. Unemployment is at historical highs. Among all the policies being passed, a top priority has been creating new programs to support the recently unemployed.

Soon, however, leaders will begin pivoting their attention from emergency measures to developing policies and systems to help kick-start the economy in the near future.

When thinking about how to support the economy, we need to be cognizant of not only which industries employ people where, but also which of these industries are feeling the most impact. In terms of employment, there is no industry in rural Minnesota with a larger footprint or is being impacted more by the pandemic than health care.

Last week, we published a blog post focusing on the serious financial situation our rural hospitals and health care providers were in already before the pandemic hit and what they will be facing when the pandemic finally ends. Next, we want to look at the significant employment impacts the health care industry has on rural Minnesota.

It’s easy to assume that since most of the hospitals and health care providers in Minnesota are located in the population centers around the state, their employees must live in those communities, too. But that isn’t true. In fact, health care facilities draw in employees from far beyond their own county borders.

The health care sector is the largest employer across all of Minnesota, even in the most rural areas of the state. Figure 1 shows that individuals working in the health care and social assistance industry make up over 15% of working individuals across all the county groups in Minnesota. In the most rural parts of the state, it’s the largest industry by far: health care and social assistance employ 17% of workers, while the next highest, manufacturing, employs up 13%.

Figure 1: Education, health care, and social assistance is by far the largest employer across Minnesota. Learn more about RUCA county groups here. Data: U.S. Census Bureau – ACS 5-year (2014-2018)


In fact, the health care and social assistance sector were the top or second highest employer in 79 of Minnesota’s 87 counties (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Health care and social assistance is the number one employer for nearly all counties in Minnesota. Data: U.S. Census Bureau – ACS 5-year (2014-2018)


It’s been noted by many newspapers across the state that hospitals are currently laying off employees. Yes, it’s crazy to think that it’s possible, but it’s important to understand that most of the revenue-generating services provided by health care facilities—physical therapy, elective surgeries like knee and hip replacements—have been eliminated or severely reduced in number. Thus, many employees simply aren’t needed right now.

As legislators and economic development organizations begin to develop policies and programs to help workers get back to work, health care should remain at the top of the list, not only because of access issues in rural Minnesota, but also due to its significant role as a top employer.

Note: We used the American Community Survey instead of the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages due to its identification of where the workers live, not where the workers work.