WSJ: Turnover Rates, Wages “Worsen” Labor Shortage for Nursing Aides

High turnover rates, low wages and sometimes unpleasant work conditions have added to the “worsening” labor shortage of nursing aids just as millions of boomers head into old age, according to an article from the Wall Street Journal.

With the number of Americans aged 65 and older projected to reach 73 million in 2030, the demand for nursing aides will continue to grow, however high demands have led to high labor turnover.

Between 43% and 75% of nursing aides turn over each year, studies have found, compared to a 27% rate for all healthcare and social-assistance jobs in 2012, notes WSJ.


Industry leaders have also linked high turnover rates to quality of care, as hiring a new aide typically costs about $4,000 in recruitment and administrative expenses, according Dr. David Gifford to WSJ, a senior vice president at the American Health Care Association.

Low wages only exasperate things. Currently, the median hourly wage for nursing aides is $11.74, according to the U.S. Labor Department, compared to $16.71 per hour for all occupations. 

While business owners say they would love to be in a position to increase pay, there is “no clear path” toward higher wages because of cutbacks in Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements, both of which are main sources of operators’ revenue. 


In some situations, injury rates have forced nursing aides away from work, specifically nonfatal injuries measured in days away from work, restrictions and transfers to a different job, or DART rate. 

In 2011, privately owned nursing care facilities had a combined DART rate of 5.3 cases per 100 full-time workers, notes WSJ. This was better, albeit not by much, than the 2010 rate of 5.6 cases.

The DART score for all other occupations ranks in at an average score of 1.9. 

Surprisingly enough, nursing aides have a higher DART rate than construction workers (2.1) and manufacturing (2.4). 

It is not just the toll heavy lifting takes on an aide’s body that deters workers, but the patients they see can often cause them harm.

Some nursing aides in the article described being punched in the face or spat on when helping patients with a form of dementia.

While there is no federal standard for nursing aide staffing levels, about two-thirds of states have set minimum levels.

Better pay and a working conditions for aides would help reduce turnover and workers’ compensation claims for injuries, says Dore Seavey, an economist at Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute.

Turnover costs among aides and other “front-line” workers in long-term healthcare are estimated at $6.3 billion a year, including recruiting and training, according to Seavey.

However, not all experiences are negative for nursing aides, the WSJ article clarifies, as many aides feel a sense of companionship with the patients they serve.

“You have to be ready physically and mentally,” says Sonia Dhaliwal in the article, a 27-year-old aide. “They’re our family. We really do love them.”

Read the Wall Street Journal article.

Written by Jason Oliva