The long-term care industry in the United States faces serious recruitment and retention problems among nurse aides. At the same time, these low-wage workers may feel trapped in poorly-paid jobs from which they would do well to leave. Despite this tension, not enough is known about how workers fare when they leave (or stay in) such care work. Using longitudinal data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation for the years 1996-2003, we examine the relationship between different job and occupational mobility patterns and wage outcomes for nurse aides, focusing on which job transitions offer better opportunities to earn higher wages and on whether job transition patterns differ by race. Our results confirm high turnover among nurse aides, with 73 percent of the sample working in occupations other than nurse aide at some point during the survey time frame. About half of respondents that transition out of nurse aide work move into higher-paying occupations, although the percentage of transitions to higher paying occupations drops to 35 percent when nurse aides that become RNs are excluded. Among black workers especially, wage penalties for moving into other jobs in the low-wage labor market appear to be rather small, likely a factor in high turnover among nurse aides. The findings illustrate the importance of occupation-specific mobility trajectories and their outcomes for different groups of workers, and for understanding the constrained decisions these workers make.
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