“As America Ages, Shortage of Help Hits Nursing Homes” by JAMES R. HAGERTY

WOODLAND, Calif.—A labor shortage is worsening in one of the nation’s fastest-growing occupations—taking care of the elderly and disabled—just as baby boomers head into old age.

Nursing homes and operators of agencies providing home-care services already are straining to find enough so-called direct-care workers, who help the elderly or disabled with such things as eating and bathing. They also face looming retirements in the current workforce, in which one-fifth of workers are 55 years old or older.

The reasons for the shortage: pay is low, typically less than $12 an hour, injury rates are high, and the work can be unpleasant and physically draining.

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With companies facing ever higher health care costs, employers are now using real money, and sometimes penalties, to make sure their employees are taking responsibility of their own health. MarketWatch’s Jim Jelter reports. (Photo: Getty Images)

Nursing aides say they often are being asked to work double shifts at short-staffed nursing homes. Indeed Inc., which runs an employment website, says the number of U.S. nursing-home-aide jobs advertised in December was 10,922, up 120% from a year earlier.

Demand will continue to grow. The number of Americans 65 years and older is projected to reach 73 million in 2030, up from 40 million in 2010. Serving that growing population will require five million direct-care workers in 2020, up 48% from the 2010 level, according to U.S. government projections.

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