One of the challenges facing the U.S. in the 21st Century will be to ensure that individuals throughout their life will have the supports they need and will be treated with dignity. For the growing population of the elderly and people with disabilities, ensuring the adequacy and availability of direct care workers is key to meeting this ideal. As this report shows, the aging "baby boomer generation" will be the most significant factor increasing the demand for long-term care services over the next half century. The number of individuals using either nursing facilities, alternative residential care, or home care services is expected to increase from 15 million in 2000 to 27 million in 2050. Most of this increase will be driven by the growth in the number of elderly in need of such care, which is expected to double from approximately 8 million in 2000 to 19 million in 2050.2
In 2000, approximately 1.9 million direct care workers (defined in this report as including registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical and vocational nurses, nurse aides (NAs), home health and personal care workers) provided care to 15 million Americans in long-term care settings (defined in this report as including nursing and personal care facilities, residential care facilities, and home health care services).3 The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that by 2010, direct care worker jobs in long-term care settings should grow by about 800,000 jobs, or roughly 45 percent.4 Paraprofessional long-term care employment will account for 8 percent of the estimated increase in the nation's jobs for workers in occupations generally requiring only short-term on-the-job training.
According to estimates developed by HHS's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), after 2010, the demand for direct care workers in long-term care settings becomes even greater as the baby boomers reach age 85, beginning in 2030. ASPE estimates project the demand for direct care workers to grow to approximately 5.7-6.6 million workers5 in 2050, an increase in the current demand for workers of between 3.8 million and 4.6 million (200 percent and 242 percent respectively). This increase in demand will be occurring at a time when the supply of workers who have traditionally filled these jobs is expected to increase only slightly.
These projections indicate that it is critical to retain existing long-term care workers and attract new ones. Since many industries will be competing for the supply of workers, pay and working conditions will play a key role in attracting new workers and consequently influencing the supply of long-term care services. Providing adequate levels of high quality, compassionate care will require sustained effort by many actors. While the Federal Government has an important role to play, much of what needs to be done will require action on the part of current and new employers who will expand and alter the market itself and shape new solutions. Other solutions will inevitably be crafted by state and local governments, health care providers and industry associations, education and training institutions, workforce investment systems, faith-based organizations, and workers themselves.
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