CNA Salary and Career Outlook
If you’re thinking about becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA), now is a great time to enter the field. With climbing salaries and advocates nationwide pushing for fair compensation, a CNA position can be a rewarding way to begin a nursing career.
What’s more, jobs for these vital healthcare workers are projected to grow by 8% nationwide between 2020-2030, leading to more than 115,000 new openings by the end of the decade. Keep reading to learn how much CNAs typically make, which states pay the highest salaries, top-paying industries, and the best states for CNA job growth.
How Much Do CNAs Make?
The median salary for CNAs working in the United States currently sits at $30,850. Nursing assistants in the top 10% of earners make more than $42,110, and those in the lowest 10% bring home less than $22,750. While median salaries show the midpoint of CNA pay, average salaries often give a clearer picture of CNA earning potential.
CNA Average Salary in the United States
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that CNAs earned average annual wages of $32,050 in 2020, the equivalent of $15.41 per hour. Fortunately, CNA salaries have consistently risen over the past five years, increasing by $4,400 since 2016.
|Year||Average Salary||Hourly Rate|
Still, despite the essential care services CNAs provide, these professionals are notoriously underpaid. Many CNAs pursue higher education or leave the field altogether because living on a CNA salary can be challenging, especially in a city with a higher cost of living and more expensive necessities like rent and transportation.
That said, certain states and professional associations are advocating for higher wages and government intervention. In 2021, the National Association of Health Care Assistants held a virtual march on Washington to encourage a government-funded wage increase. The group urged lawmakers to immediately raise minimum CNA pay to $16 per hour, with options for making up to $22 per hour via continued education. Other organizations, such as the American Healthcare Association, have also advocated for higher CNA wages, citing the understaffing crises that nursing homes face.
Oregon’s largest nursing home chain recently raised its CNA base pay to $18 per hour, as did several other facilities in the state. And after enduring several employee strikes, Connecticut-based iCare Health Network raised its minimum CNA wage to $20 per hour.
CNAs deserve to earn adequate wages for the caregiving services they provide. With recent wage increases, it looks like all their hard work is starting to pay off.
CNA Salary by State
As the table below demonstrates, your nursing assistant salary can vary substantially based on where you live. Alaska pays the highest wages in the nation at $42,500 per year; meanwhile, CNAs in Louisiana make the lowest amount, with an average annual salary of $24,300.
While factors such as cost of living, educational level, and experience can impact earnings, some states simply pay more than others. New York, California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts round out the top five paying states for CNAs.
|State||Average Annual Wage|
CNA Salary in Top Cities
Working in a large metropolitan area often comes with a higher salary, partly because it typically costs more to live in a city than a rural area or smaller urban area. For instance, . Because of this, CNAs living in more expensive cities often earn higher salaries to cover their costs.
The following table looks at annual average wages in some of the largest cities throughout the United States.
|City||Average Annual Wage|
|New York, NY||$40,520|
|Los Angeles, CA||$38,030|
|Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX||$30,970|
Top Industries for CNA Pay
CNA students looking at potential jobs after graduation may notice that not all industries pay the same. Some industries tend to pay higher wages, making them a great fit for those looking to maximize their salary opportunities.
While nursing care facilities employ the highest number of CNAs in the United States, they pay some of the lowest salaries, averaging $31,000 per year. However, CNAs working at junior colleges earned the highest annual mean wage in 2020 at $49,250. Nursing assistants who worked in outpatient care centers made an average annual salary of $38,420.
Before taking any position, aspiring CNAs should consider how much value they put on earning a higher salary versus working in a setting that meets their personal and professional needs.
|Industry||Average Annual Wage|
|Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools||$44,870|
|Federal Executive Branch (OEWS Designation)||$41,210|
|Scientific Research and Development Services||$39,630|
|Outpatient Care Centers||$38,420|
How Can I Earn More as a CNA?
The good news is that you can increase your CNA pay by choosing a quality training program, gaining valuable experience, and picking shifts that maximize your earnings.
Factors That Impact Certified Nursing Assistant Salary
Besides location and industry, several other factors affect how much money you can earn as a certified nursing assistant. The amount of education and experience you have, whether you’re working a day or night shift, and if you have any additional specializations or certifications can all impact your pay.
It’s important to understand these early on in your job search to make informed decisions about your long-term career.
Not all CNA training programs offer a quality nursing assistant education—and students who fail to do their research before enrolling can suffer the consequences when it’s time to become certified and find a job. Before signing up for any CNA training program, check with your state board of nursing for a list of programs that have been reviewed by the state and meet standards around training and student services.
Because employers know which programs in the area hold state approval, graduates of reputable programs are much more likely to negotiate a higher starting salary than those who attended an unapproved program.
Education level can also make a difference. According to Salary.com, CNAs with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree can earn slightly more than those with a high school diploma or technical certificate.
As with many other professional roles, experience often leads to higher pay. According to PayScale, CNAs with less than one year of experience earn a median hourly wage of $12.32, but salaries steadily increase as experience grows:
- 1-4 years: $12.76
- 5-9 years: $13.38
- 10-19 years: $13.97
- 20+ years: $14.60
CNAs can expect to earn approximately 3.5% more after four years of experience, 8.6% more after five years, 13.4% more after ten years, and 19% more after 20 years. Aspiring CNAs should weigh whether they want to earn higher wages by staying in the role and building experience or pursuing higher education and moving into a job offering a more robust salary.
CNAs with additional skills and certifications can also make more money. Some relevant specializations that may pay more (depending on the employer) include:
- EKG Technician
- Medication Aide
- Pediatrics Aide
- Patient Care Technician
- Surgery Technician
In addition, having skills specific to operating rooms, intensive care units, obstetrics, and hospice and palliative care can lead to higher compensation.
One of the best ways for CNAs to bring home higher wages is to choose shifts that come with a higher pay rate, called a shift differential.
For instance, while a regular CNA day shift at a retirement community pays $15/hour, an evening or weekend shift adds $1.75 each hour, paying $16.75/hour. A night shift pays an even higher differential of $2.75/hour, making total compensation for that shift $17.75/hour.
If you have 10 or more years of CNA experience, you can expect the base pay rate to increase by approximately 13.4%, starting you off at around $17/hour. For the above job, with a shift differential, you could be making $19.75/hour for night shifts.
A nursing and rehab facility starts CNAs at $16.25 plus a $1,000 sign-on bonus. Nursing assistants working 2nd and 3rd shifts make an additional $2/hour (for a total of $18.25/hour) and weekly bonus incentives are available for full-time employees.
Similarly, a medical staffing firm offers CNAs $21.00/hour. It then adds on a $0.50/hour morning bonus, $1.00/hour weekend and night differentials, and $5/hour hazard pay for CNAs that work in COVID facilities. So, a CNA working in a COVID facility on the weekend stands to make at least $27/hour.
Working night and weekend shifts may not be possible all the time, but taking on these alternative schedule shifts when you have the chance can really add up on your paycheck.
With CNA shortages rampant across the country and high turnover of CNA positions, employers frequently offer sign-on and retention bonuses to attract and keep quality employees. Although bonus amounts vary based on the employer, $1,000 to $3,000 paid out over several months is common.
Explore Alternative Opportunities
As a CNA, stepping away from traditional employment arrangements can lead to a much higher salary. For instance, per diem nursing assistant jobs can pay upwards of $45 an hour plus benefits. Or, you can search for opportunities working for a private client providing full-time care in their home for $25+/hour.
If you want to see the country, working as a contract travel CNA can earn you higher wages (approximately $36/hour) as well. With travel CNA work, you may only have short-term contracts of a few weeks, but you’ll build experience and learn new skills as you travel from job to job.
Your CNA training can take you in a multitude of directions—if you’re willing to be creative and take some risks, the career can be quite lucrative.
What Is the Demand and Career Outlook for CNA Jobs?
As of 2020, nearly 1.4 million certified nursing assistants worked in hospitals, clinics, physicians’ offices, long-term care facilities, and at-home care roles. By 2030, the BLS projects that CNAs will occupy more than 1.5 million positions.
A big reason for this growth includes a large and aging baby boomer population. As these individuals begin relying more and more on healthcare professionals to care for them in their later years, nursing assistants are sure to be in high demand.
Another important factor impacting job growth is the CNA career path. Many CNAs work for a couple of years before pursuing further education and moving into positions as registered nurses and other nursing professionals. As more CNAs decide to make the transition, turnover in the field translates into increased job opportunities for new CNAs.
Top States for CNA Job Growth
As the table below demonstrates, states with the highest employment of CNAs are generally states with the largest populations and faster than average job growth projections. Graduates looking to work in an area with a robust CNA professional network and plenty of openings may want to consider one of these locations.
|State||Currently Employed||Projected Job Growth|
However, while the above states currently employ the most CNAs, several states project even higher job growth through 2028, making them ideal destinations for CNAs looking for work. These are the top five states for projected job growth in the next several years.
|State||Projected Job Growth|