Helping Teens is Big Business in Washington County

By Lecia Parks Langston, Senior Economist

“Make no mistake, adolescence is a war. No one gets out unscathed.” Harlan Coben

When I first moved to southern Utah nearly 23 years ago, I immediately noticed a flourishing industry in residential teen treatment centers. However, collecting data about these businesses is not easy. Why? Typically, economists use the federally sanctioned coding structures to easily track industry-level employment statistics. But, coding structures don’t necessarily group all these businesses under one code; plus, their assigned codes also include many other employers, which don’t necessarily serve a teen cliental. The labor-intensive task of collecting information on these businesses required individually examining a large database of employers to extract information. Here are the results.

What are they?

Teen treatment facilities typically list as their primary service providing behavioral services to troubled adolescents. Among other services, these facilities can provide treatment for addictions of all kinds, trauma, behavior problems, depression and other disorders. Also, these businesses usually deliver educational services to their enrollees. While most deliver these services in a residential treatment facility, some of the businesses included in this report provide “wilderness” therapy, as well.

In terms of industrial coding, Washington County teen-treatment businesses are coded into four North American Industrial Classification (NAICS) codes, which also include businesses catering to other groups:

  • 623220 – Residential Mental Health and Substance Abuse Facilities
  • 623990 – Other Residential Care Facilities
  • 624110 – Child and Youth Services
  • 624190 – Other Individual and Family Services

How big?

In 2018, these residential teen treatment facilities employed roughly 1,360 individuals or about 2% of Washington County’s total nonfarm employment. While this may not seem like a large amount, these businesses account for more jobs than several other major industries, such as: arts/entertainment/recreation (1,290), wholesale trade (1,280), information (860), the federal government (590), private education (610), mining (250), and utilities (140). They also provide roughly 2% of the county’s total wages.

At the recent peak of their dominance, the recessionary year of 2009, Washington County teen treatment facilities contributed 2.6% of Washington County nonfarm jobs. Growth rates in teen-treatment employment have tracked parallel to overall employment growth rates, but have typically measured slightly below total expansion rates since the end of the Great Recession.

Interestingly, employment growth in teen-treatment facilities has significantly lagged that of its primary industry — healthcare and social services. Between 2005 and 2018, healthcare/social services employment expanded by 78% compared to only 14% for teen-treatment facilities.

How important?

Another way of looking at the importance of teen treatment centers to Washington County is to compare its importance among different areas. However, the difficulty of flagging such businesses again rears its head — particularly when comparing to the United States.

Another method to examine the industry’s relative importance is to compute location quotients (LQ) for the occupation most frequently found at these centers. That occupation is residential advisors. Thanks to the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, location quotients are readily calculable. Location Quotients allow an easy comparison between a particular area’s occupational concentration to the national average. A LQ of “1” means an occupation’s share of employment in an area equals that occupation’s share of employment nationally. A LQ of “3” indicates that an occupation accounts for three-times the share of U.S. employment. A LQ less than “1” means the occupation is less important locally than nationally.

Utah’s LQ for residential advisors measures 2.1 (or twice the national average). However, Washington County’s LQ equals 7.2 — a whopping seven times higher than the nation’s employment share. Among states, only South Dakota shows a higher LQ for residential advisors (7.4) than does Washington County. This high concentration of residential advisors in Washington County points to the decided importance of these teen treatment centers to the county’s economy.

Other takeaways

Companies categorized in the residential mental health and substance abuse industry account for the largest share (55%) of teen-treatment facility employment in Washington County.

Employment in the other individual and family services sector has lost employment share over the past 13 years. In 2005, this category accounted for 12% of teen treatment jobs compared to only 3% in 2018.

Average wages at teen treatment centers measure only slightly lower than average county wage — $36,473 compared to $37,418. However, wages vary widely between occupations.

In order to maintain business-level confidentiality, we can’t publish individual occupational wages for this industry group. However, we can share average wages for the entire occupation in Washington County. Residential advisors (the largest occupational group by employment) shows an annual median wage of roughly $25,200 — far below the countywide median of $32,000. However, median wages for other common occupations measure notably higher:

  • Substance abuse/behavioral disorder/mental health counselors – $72,800
  • Registered Nurses – $62,100
  • Social and Community Service Managers – $59,200
  • Secondary School Teachers – $46,100

Of the four NAICS subclassifications which cover teen treatment facilities, “other residential care facilities” pays the highest average wage. Average wages at “child and youth Services” measure the lowest.

Five teen treatment businesses maintained employment between 100 and 249 workers in 2018. While a number of employers have left or entered the market, the number of employers has remained relatively steady — varying between 27 in 2005 and 19 in 2012.

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