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Your Guide to CNA Salary in California [2024]

California employs more certified nursing assistants (CNAs) than any other state, and the average CNA salary is among the highest nationwide. However, the cost of living is also considerably high. This guide provides precise and reliable information for nursing assistants in California, including CNA salary per hour and year, employment, and how to become a CNA.

Check the table below to see a breakdown of average wages in various areas of the state and links to cities and towns featuring per diem CNA jobs in California.

Table 1: Areas, Cities/Towns, and Average Wages

Area Cities and Towns Mean Hourly CNA Wage
Fresno Fresno $18.38
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim Alhambra, Anaheim, Burbank, Glendale, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Orange County, Pasadena, Rancho Mission Viejo, Santa Ana $20.49
Modesto Inland Empire, Modesto $19.74
Napa Napa $21.24
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario San Bernardino, Riverside $19.12
San Diego-Carlsbad El Cajon, Encinitas, Escondido, La Mesa, National City, San Diego $20.39
San Fransisco-Oakland-Hayward Hayward $25.13
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara San Jose, Milpitas, Mountain View, Palo Alto $24.81
Yuba Marysville $19.07

This resource provides publicly available information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the United States Census Bureau, and the MIT Living Wage Calculator about average CNA salaries, employment, location quotient, and living wage in California (most recent information as of March 2024). While Nursa currently offers independent contractor CNAs in California the opportunity to access per diem jobs that pay on an hourly basis rather than access to salaried or wage-based employment opportunities, this information may be a helpful frame of reference for you as you assess the job market both regarding per diem jobs and employment opportunities.

How Much Do Nursing Assistants Make in California?

CNA wages vary significantly throughout California, with average hourly rates ranging from under $18.00 in El Centro to over $25.00 in San Fransisco. 

Whether you feel drawn to the vibrant energy of cities or the welcoming embrace of small towns, California has something to offer. After exploring these locations up and down the length of the state, you’re sure to find your preferred job.

Northern California

Southern California

Bay Area in the San Francisco Metro

San Jose Metro

Los Angeles Metro

Santa Barbara Metro in the Central Coast Region

Riverside-San Bernardino Metro

With many enticing locations across the Golden State to consider, let’s see just how much the area can impact CNA salary.

Where You Work Matters: CNA Pay Comparisons in California

three CNAs standing together making hands into a heart
CNAs in California can earn more based on location.

Location plays a significant role in determining your pay level, and California is one of the top ten best-paying states for CNA jobs. The state’s coastal metros and technological hubs typically offer better wages than rural areas. While higher salaries might be enticing, balancing your desired income and predilect lifestyle is fundamental.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals a remarkable difference of over $7 per hour, translating to nearly $15,000 annually from one area of California to another. The San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metros stand at the top of the pay scale.

Interestingly, per diem or PRN nursing jobs consistently come with higher hourly pay across the state. Furthermore, CNAs who work in various specialties, including Medsurg, ICU, and ER typically earn higher annual incomes, as well.

Knowing current CNA wages in California per hour and year across various locations is essential for competent personal financial management. This information empowers you to compare per diem offers with standard CNA wages (refer to the table above) and make informed career decisions that align with your financial goals and personal lifestyle inclinations.

How Much Do CNAs Make in California?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides precise and fact-based percentiles indicating the distribution of California’s typical CNA pay levels—in other words, percentages of CNAs working throughout the state who earn up to certain income thresholds.

  • 10th percentile: $36,070
  • 25th percentile: $37,550 
  • 50th percentile: $40,040
  • 75th percentile: $46,250
  • 90th percentile: $56,910 

What do these pay percentiles mean? 

The 10th percentile, representing the lowest income level, indicates that 10 percent of CNAs in California earn less than $36,070, while the remaining 90 percent earn more. On the upper end of the range, the 90th and highest percentile specifies that 10 percent earn more than $56,910, and 90 percent earn less. Furthermore, half of all nursing assistants in California can expect to make a wage exceeding $40,040 annually. 

Understanding the implications of these mean wage percentiles provides insight into your potential income and offers a well-informed framework for making decisions to shape your financial future.

What’s the Average CNA Salary in the State of California?

Compare the average CNA wage per hour and year in California to the national mean with a quick look at the following table.

Table 2: Annual and Hourly CNA Wages

CNA Wages California United States
Annual $43,570 $36,220
Hourly $20.95 $17.41

On average, CNAs in California make an impressive $7,350 more per year than the national average CNA wage. However, remember that California CNA wages range widely, from under $36,000 at entry level to well above $56,000.

How Many CNAs Work in the Largest California Metros?

Knowing how much you can earn in California may help you choose the best option when considering independent contractor work or applying for salaried or wage-based employment. Another piece of data that may inform your plans is how many CNAs actually work in some of the largest metropolitan areas in the state, as shown in the table below.

But first, what does “location quotient” mean?

The location quotient (LQ) tells you how common a specific job is in a particular area compared to the average for the entire country. A value of one represents the national LQ; an LQ under one indicates a lower concentration than the nationwide average, and an LQ over one shows a higher concentration of an industry or profession. 

Table 3: Number of CNAs and Location Quotient by Area

Metropolitan Areas with a Population over 1,000,000 Number of CNAs Employed Location Quotient (LQ)
Fresno 2,550 0.72
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim 39,710 0.73
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario 8,460 0.58
Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade 5,090 0.56
San Diego-Carlsbad 9,290 0.70
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward 10,980 0.52
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara 5,230 0.53

The Los Angeles metro, California’s most populated area by far, has both the highest concentration of nurse assistant jobs and the most employed CNAs in the state.

How Can I Become a CNA in California?

To work as a certified nursing assistant in California, you must meet specific prerequisites, train, pass the state exam, and apply for certification. It’s a rewarding career path, giving you plenty of opportunities to capably care for patients and make a significant difference in people’s lives. 

1. Prerequisites 

  • Be at least 16 years old.
  • Pass an examination demonstrating physical ability to meet the job demands, including lifting patients.
  • Undergo a background check and drug screening.
  • Have up-to-date immunizations.

2. Training

  • Choose and complete a program accredited by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), typically comprising 70 classroom and 100 practice hours, taking around six to 12 weeks. The CDPH provides a complete list of approved CNA classes and programs in California. You can explore options at community colleges, vocational schools, or healthcare facilities.

3. State Certification Exam

  • Take the written and skills tests after completing a CNA program.

4. Certificate

5. CNA Jobs

  • Find CNA jobs in hospitals, nursing homes, or retirement communities.

Remember to renew your certification every two years, fulfilling the state requirements, including 48 hours of in-service training/CEUs. The Department of Public Health maintains the California CNA Registry, and you can check the status of your California CNA certification with their verification search page. This California CNA license lookup service is free and also provides license verification for home health aides (HHA), certified hemodialysis technicians (CHT), and nursing home administrators (NHA).

Are PCTs the Same as CNAs?

Patient care technician (PCT) jobs are also available in California. PCTs generally need more extensive training than CNAs, often including skills such as phlebotomy, EKG monitoring, and basic laboratory procedures.

How Can I Find CNA Jobs in California?

At Nursa, we connect certified nursing assistants with per diem CNA jobs in California and throughout the United States, offering competitive hourly rates and flexibility.

PRN nursing in California could suit you if you’re looking for a rewarding career path with the freedom to manage your own schedule and earn higher hourly pay. Nursa also posts jobs for registered nurses (RNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs).

busy street in sunny California city
California offers busy cities with plenty of things to do for CNAs.

Alert: Cost of Living Considerations for California

Beyond understanding your potential income, it’s crucial to anticipate your expenses and evaluate whether your earnings can adequately support your household. The annual living wage in California, which reflects the cost of living, varies significantly—starting at $56,825 for a single adult, rising to $99,763 for a single adult with one child, and reaching $128,000 for a single parent with two children. These figures surpass the majority of annual CNA wages in California. If your CNA salary constitutes your sole income, you may want to explore avenues to augment your earnings.

How Can I Earn More as a CNA in California?

One viable option is to engage in per diem or PRN shifts, a strategy known to enhance income effectively. Working per diem means “per day;” the pay is by the hour as clocked, at a rate typically higher than the average CNA wage. This arrangement offers shifts in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities catering to temporary needs for additional clinicians and providing a dual advantage. 

  • For nurses, working per diem means enjoying higher hourly rates with the flexibility to supplement current income or earn full-time PRN income.
  • For facilities, contracting per diem presents a practical way to fill critical, short-term gaps in clinician coverage without the burden of providing full-time benefits, making PRN jobs a cost-effective solution. 

To secure timely solutions to staffing gaps due to absences, vacations, and peak patient seasons, hospitals and clinics provide higher CNA wages per hour for PRN nurses, who play a vital role in ensuring the delivery of top-notch patient care. It’s a win-win scenario. 

Embrace increased earning potential and schedule control while contributing to facilities’ operational efficiency. Ready to explore per diem job opportunities? Welcome to Nursa!


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