Certified Nursing Assistant 2021 Salary Guide icon

Certified Nursing Assistant 2021 Salary Guide

| NurseJournal Staff

Certified Nursing Assistant 2021 Salary Guide mini logo

With training programs that require only 4-12 weeks, the certified nursing assistant (CNA) role gives prospective healthcare providers quick entry into the nursing field.

CNAs are entry-level nursing staff who provide nurses and patients with basic assistance. CNAs help patients with eating, grooming, and other daily activities, and assist nurses by managing supplies, taking vital signs, and moving patients. Because most states require fewer than 200 hours of training, the CNA average salary is lower than that of a registered nurse (RN).

How much does a CNA make? Drawing from recent data, this page answers some common questions about CNA salaries and factors that influence CNA pay.

Fast Facts About Certified Nursing Assistants

  • The 2020 average annual salary for nursing assistants is $32,050 or $15.41 an hour.
  • The bottom 10th percentile of nursing assistants earn $22,750 and the top 10th percentile of nursing assistants earn $42,110.
  • 19% of CNAs report working a second job.

Sources: BLS | Van Houtven CH, DePasquale N, Coe NB. Essential Long-Term Care Workers Commonly Hold Second Jobs and Double- or Triple-Duty Caregiving Roles

Featured Online Programs

Average Salary for Certified Nursing Assistants

How much do nursing assistants make? According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average CNA salary has increased steadily over the last five years, reaching $32,050 in 2020 in response to growing demand for healthcare workers at all levels. The CNA average salary rose by 4.3% between 2019-20, a level higher than the national inflation rate.

Read on to explore other factors affecting CNA pay.

What Kind of Salary Growth Can Certified Nursing Assistants Expect?

CNA salaries increase as professionals gain experience and take on more responsibilities. For example, experienced CNAs may help onboard new hires or oversee other nursing assistants under an RN's supervision. However, CNAs still earn less than other nurses, and experienced CNAs may consider becoming RNs or relocating to find better opportunities and higher wages.

Average Hourly Salary of CNAs by Experience

Ways to Increase Pay As a Certified Nursing Assistant

Highest and Lowest Paying States for Certified Nursing Assistants in 2020

Earning potential varies considerably by geographical region. Alaska offers the nation's highest certified nursing assistant salary, while the average CNA pay in Louisiana is only $24,300, making it the lowest paying state.

Cost of living strongly impacts how much a CNA makes, and the highest paying states feature above average costs of living. Local demand for healthcare workers, other available career opportunities for individuals without a college degree, and population density also affect CNA salaries.

Top-Paying States for Certified Nursing Assistants

State Average Salary
Alaska $42,500
New York $40,620
California $39,280
Hawaii $38,650
Massachusetts $37,160
Source: BLS, 2020

Lowest-Paying States for Certified Nursing Assistants

State Average Salary
Louisiana $24,300
Mississippi $24,400
Alabama $25,600
Arkansas $26,550
Oklahoma $27,220
Source: BLS, 2020

Highest Paying Metropolitan Areas for Certified Nursing Assistants in 2020

The country's five highest paying metropolitan areas for CNAs are all in California, and overwhelmingly located near Silicon Valley. The average certified nursing assistant salary in the San Francisco metropolitan area is even higher than the average CNA salary in Alaska, reflecting the region's exceptionally high cost of living.

The top paying metropolitan areas for certified nursing assistants are:

Highest-Paying Cities Average Salary
San Francisco — Oakland-Hayward, CA $48,420
Santa Cruz — Watsonville, CA $43,960
Vallejo — Fairfield, CA $42,200
San Jose — Sunnyvale — Santa Clara, CA $41,980
Sacramento — Roseville — Arden-Arcade, CA $41,950
Source: BLS, 2020

Highest Paying Workplaces for Certified Nursing Assistants

So, how much do CNAs get paid in different work settings? Wages depend on many factors, including responsibilities, the relative influence of labor unions, and demand for jobs.

CNAs employed at colleges and universities may perform triage for RNs or NPs, demonstrating greater professional experience and more advanced skills. Like their federal counterparts, college support staff are more likely to be union members. Other settings may come with more administrative responsibilities, demanding strong computer and technology skills.

Workplace Setting Average Salary
Junior Colleges $49,250
Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools $44,870
Federal Executive Branch $41,210
Scientific Research and Development Services $39,630
Outpatient Care Centers $38,420
Source: BLS, 2020

How Do Certified Nursing Assistant Salaries Compare to Other Nurses?

Training, education, and workplace responsibilities and risks influence all healthcare workers' salaries. For example, nurse anesthetists often hold a DNP and take considerable responsibility for patients' surgical outcomes.

CNAs complete relatively brief training programs and take on few independent responsibilities. As a result, the average CNA salary is comparatively low. Many RNs begin their careers as CNAs, increasing their responsibilities and earning power as they gain education, credentials, and experience.

Find Out More About How Much Nurses Earned in 2020

Ways to Increase Pay As a Certified Nursing Assistant

CNA pay varies considerably, with the lowest paid professionals making $22,750 annually and top earners bringing in an average of $42,110 a year. While education and training, professional experience, workplace policies, and location all influence wages, there are some ways CNAs can increase their earning potential.

1. Complete Additional Training or Certification
CNAs can earn certification in skills like basic life support or advanced cardiovascular life support.
CNAs with advanced nursing certifications can train to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), while individuals with an ADN or BSN may pursue RN licensure.
2. Learn New Skills
Healthcare professionals often perform administrative tasks like documentation. CNAs who can master the necessary software and administrative processes may face better salary prospects.
According to PayScale, skills like typing and mastering Excel can increase a CNA's earning potential.
3. Pursue a Specialization
Salaries vary according to specialty in addition to individual workplace, job duties, and experience.
CNA pay may be higher in intensive care units, obstetrics, telemetry, or operating room settings. However, these positions are often stressful, with less predictable schedules.
4. Work Higher Paying Shifts
Individuals who work during less popular hours like night shifts often enjoy higher wages.
CNAs who are eligible for overtime may earn more during peak hours.
If benefits are not an issue, hourly temporary CNA pay can be higher than the hourly equivalent for full-time workers.
5. Relocate to a Higher Paying Region
Certified nursing assistant salaries vary significantly by location.
Although wages are usually highest in areas with higher costs of living, CNAs sometimes earn more in rural areas with high demand for healthcare workers and a low cost of living.

Frequently Asked Questions: Certified Nursing Assistant Salaries


What is the most a CNA can make in an hour?

According to BLS data, the top 10% of CNAs earn $20.25 an hour or more. Depending on location, experience, and specialty, professionals may be able to make even more by earning bonuses or overtime pay.

Can you live off of a CNA salary?

That depends on your expenses, including cost of living and any dependents you may support, and whether you receive overtime pay and benefits in addition to a salary. According to this study, 19% of CNAs work a second job.

What is the highest paying state for CNA?

While Alaska boasts the highest average salary for CNAs, the state also maintains a high cost of living, as do other top states, including New York, California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts. The cities that offer the highest CNA salaries are all located in California.

Who gets paid more between CNAs and HHAs?

As of May 2020, home health aides (HHAs) earn a mean annual wage of $28,060. In contrast, the average CNA salary is $32,050 a year.

Learn More About Certified Nursing Assistants

NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.

Popular Resources

Resources and articles written by professionals and other Nurses like you.