Hardly Any Displaced Workers Are Choosing Direct Care When Reentering Workforce

Finding ways to recruit and retain new staff is the top priority for most nursing home operators right now, particularly when it comes to frontline staff. While some might think to look to bring in those that lost their jobs early on in the pandemic, new data shows that COVID-displaced workers aren’t choosing direct care as their next occupation. 

By direct care workers, it refers to individuals who provide regular, hands-on assistance to seniors and individuals with disabilities across a variety of settings, including nursing homes.

Out of an estimated 168,370 direct care workers that became unemployed in the first three months of the pandemic, 153,610 workers, or 91%, had not been reemployed by the first quarter of 2021, a study by PHI National and Health Workforce Research Center on Long-Term Care at the University of California, San Francisco shows.


Only 14,760 workers, or nine percent, reentered the workforce, and almost no displaced workers reentered the workforce into direct care, not even the ones that worked in direct care jobs prior to the pandemic.
The study also found that many COVID-displaced workers were in occupations with similar entry-level requirements as direct care, but that few took jobs in direct care.

PHI National displacement report

“It’s clear from this study that the direct care job should be made more attractive to workers, and we all must find new ways to recruit specific populations into these jobs,” Stephen McCall, co-author of the report and data and policy analyst at PHI said in the press release.

The research from PHI National sheds light on the workers who were displaced from their jobs by the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 and suggests that their recruitment into the direct care workforce has been anything but easy.


When comparing wages and hours among direct care workers and reemployed workers, the study found that reemployed workers earned higher wages which may further limit a large-scale movement of displaced workers into direct care.

Thirty-three percent of displaced workers reentered the workforce into an occupation with higher median wages and all workers, including those who entered lower-paying occupations, entered occupations with median wages that were higher than direct care workers, the study showed.

The median wage for direct care workers was reported to be $14.05, while the median wage for those that reentered the workforce into a high-paying occupation reached $21.96.

From 2019 to 2029, there will be an estimated 7.4 million direct care worker openings, according to a report released by PHI National in September, as direct care is expected to add more new jobs than any other single occupation.

“This is an opportunity for long-term care to make being a certified nursing assistant more attractive. We need to fill 7.4 million direct care jobs by 2029,” Lori Porter, co-founder and CEO of the National Association of Health Care Assistants (NAHCA), told SNN. “Very, very few direct caregivers that were displaced by COVID, re-entered into direct care and we need to ask ourselves why.”

She said NAHCA’s new initiative — the National Institute of CNA Excellence — looks to build career paths for CNAs earning $15 to $18 an hour, pushing them to $18 to $25 an hour with additional experience and skills, thus making the position more attractive.

The impact of the rise of home health could also be seen in the PHI study.

Around 44% of displaced workers who lived with a person with caregiving needs were not reemployed, compared to 68% of workers who did not.

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