The pay is low and injuries are common, but nursing care is a rare bright spot in the gloomy economic landscape, adding jobs at a steady clip. As the field has grown, so, too, have efforts to unionize.
An aging population is increasing its demand for home health and nursing care. Relatively low training requirements mean the job is accessible to a broad range of workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says the ranks of home health aides—about 1 million today--will increase by more than 50 percent in seven years.
By 2018, there will be more direct-care workers, as they are known, than teachers or public-safety workers, BLS data show. But mean wages for these careers still hover near the poverty line, and incidences of injury among these workers are second only to police officers, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Bill Cruice, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, a labor union representing 6,000 nurses and health professionals, said he has seen many changes in the industry.
Nursing homes have historically been owned and operated mostly by companies focused on health or elder care. But during the last 20 years, ownership has shifted to big investors, who are snapping up and consolidating homes. Private equity firms have gotten involved in the industry as well, with the Carlyle Group acquiring the nation’s largest nursing home chain, HCR ManorCare, in 2007.