The direct care workforce boasts 4.6 million workers, making it larger than any single occupation in the U.S. New research from PHI, a nonprofit, however, indicates that low wages and other economic barriers threaten these workers’ economic security and job stability.

In a new analysis, “Direct Care Workers in the United States: Key Facts,” PHI reports that over the past 10 years, inflation-adjusted median hourly wages increased only marginally for nursing assistants — from $13.39 in 2009 to $13.90 in 2019. The nation’s 566,000 nursing assistants earn a median annual wage of $23,300 a year, meaning that approximately 2 in 5 live in low-income households. The pandemic has revealed how essential they are, PHI President Jodi M. Sturgeon said. 

“It has taken a significant health crisis for our country to begin seeing the value of our long-term care system and its workforce, but this research shows how much work is needed to address the many barriers facing direct care workers,” Sturgeon said. “The direct care workforce is on the frontline of this crisis, as essential as ever, and they deserve a significant investment in their jobs.”