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Your Guide to LVN Salary in California [2024]

Average wages by city. Typical pay ranges. Locations with high-paying job postings. This vital information allows licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) to plan and secure a stable financial future while following their calling. This research on vocational nurse pay in California offers a guide to LVN salary per hour and year, job options, and steps to become an LVN.

Refer to the table below for an overview of average wages across different areas in California, along with links to cities and towns featuring per diem job postings.

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

City Neighboring Cities Cost of Living Index
Fresno Fresno $31.29
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim Anaheim, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Pasadena, Glendale, Santa Ana, Orange County, Alhambra, Rancho Mission Viejo, Burbank $32.95
Modesto Modesto $31.87
Napa Napa $36.72
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario Inland Empire, San Bernardino, Riverside $31.19
San Diego-Carlsbad La Mesa, Encinitas, El Cajon, Escondido, San Diego $32.57
San Fransisco-Oakland-Hayward Hayward $38.69
San Jose-Sunnyville-Santa Clara Milpitas, Mountain View, San Jose, Palo Alto $38.75
Yuba Marysville $31.86

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 LVN salaries, employment, location quotient, and living wage in California (most recent information as of March 2024). While Nursa currently offers independent contractor LVNs 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 Nurses Make in California?

California is one of the highest-paying states for LVNs. The hourly pay for LVNs varies in California, ranging from approximately $29 in certain less populated regions to nearly $39 in cities like San Jose. Whether your preference lies in bustling cities or quiet, friendly small towns, explore high-paying PRN nursing jobs in these California locations:

Location Makes a Difference in the Average LVN Salary

Location is a weighty factor in nurse compensation for California LVNs. Coastal cities and tech hubs often boast higher wages, while rural areas typically have lower pay scales. Consider balancing your desired wage with your lifestyle preference.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics illustrates a notable variation of over $8 per hour or over $19,000 annually. The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara and San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metros top the pay chart, followed by Santa Rosa and Napa.

However, here’s a noteworthy tip: Per diem or PRN nursing jobs often provide higher hourly compensation statewide, which is feasible for healthcare facilities because PRN nursing alleviates facilities from expenses related to hiring new staff and paying employee benefits.

Information on the current LVN salary in California per hour and year empowers licensed vocational nurses to make informed comparisons between per diem offers and the standard LVN wages (refer to the table above) and make strategic career choices.

Why Do PRN Nursing Jobs Offer Better Pay?

Hospitals and clinics frequently deal with staffing challenges arising from absences, vacations, and peak periods in patient care, like winter. To secure timely solutions, they provide enhanced LVN wages per hour for PRN nurses in California who play a vital role in ensuring top-notch patient care during these weeks or days of personnel gaps or increased clinician demand.

Through Nursa, you can discover per diem LVN jobs in California that offer attractive hourly rates and flexibility. This type of work allows you to advance in your nursing career while being free to tailor your schedule to suit your preferences and needs.

What’s the Average LVN Pay in the State of California?

With a quick look at this table, compare California’s yearly and hourly LVN wage with the national compensation.

Table 2: Annual and Hourly Wage in California and the US

LVN Wages Annual Mean Wage Hourly Mean Wage
California $69,930 $55,860
United States $33.62 $26.86

On average, LVNs in California make an impressive $14,000 more annually than the national average LVN wage. However, it is worth noting that California LVN wages vary widely, typically from under $52,000 to above $88,140.

The BLS provides fact-based percentiles indicating the distribution of California’s typical LVN pay levels—in other words, percentages of LVNs working throughout the state who earn up to certain income thresholds.

  • 10th percentile: $52,000
  • 25th percentile: $61,190 
  • 50th percentile: $66,090
  • 75th percentile: $77,470
  • 90th percentile: $88,140 

What do these pay percentiles mean?

The 10th percentile, representing the lowest wage level, indicates that 10 percent of LVNs in California earn less than $52,000, while the remaining 90 percent earn more. On the other end of the range, the 90th and highest percentile specifies that 10 percent earn more than $88,140, and 90 percent earn less. Half of all licensed vocational nurses in California can expect to make a comfortable wage exceeding $66,090 annually. Grasping the implications of these mean wage percentiles helps you understand your potential income and gives you a framework for well-informed decisions to build your financial future. 

Heads Up: Cost of Living Considerations for California

LVN taking the blood pressure of a patient
LVNs make various incomes depending on their setting in California.

Along with knowledge and appreciation of your potential income, it is also helpful to foresee your expenses. Will your income be enough to support your household? That depends, of course, on how many adults bring income home and how many children or other dependents live with you. The annual living wage—the cost of living—is around $56,825 for a single adult, taking a giant leap up to $99,763 for a single adult with one child and above $128,000 for a single parent with two children.

While LVN wages in California offer a comfortable life for a single adult, raising a family on an LVN income alone can be challenging. The pay is attractively high in the Golden State, but you must anticipate the cost of living.

How Can I Earn More as a Nurse in California?

One option open to you is working per diem or PRN shifts, which can effectively boost your income. Nurses work per diem for various reasons, including exposure to other work settings and nursing teams, flexible schedules, and, last but not least, higher hourly pay. Working per diem means working “per day.” The pay is by the hour as clocked, at a rate higher than the average LVN wage.

How Many LVNs Does California Currently Employ?

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. Knowing how many vocational nurses work in California also offers a valuable frame of reference. 

The entire state of California currently employs approximately 73,740 LVNs, with well over one-third of these working in the LA metro. Furthermore, you may find it helpful to know which areas within the state employ more LVNs. But first, let’s take a look at the terminology.

What Does “Location Quotient” Mean?

The term “location quotient” (LQ) is a statistical measure used to compare the concentration of a specific job in a given area to the average concentration of that job across the entire country.

If the LQ is less than one, the job is less prevalent in that area than the national average.

On the other hand, if the LQ is above one, the job is more common in that area than nationwide. In other words, an LQ of one would mean the job’s prevalence in that area is precisely average.

What Does “LVN Employment” Refer To?

“LVN employment” in the context of job statistics refers to the proportion of licensed vocational nurse jobs in relation to the total number of jobs in a specific state or area, specifically the number of LVN jobs per 1,000 jobs overall. This measure provides a valuable perspective on the job market, as it helps to understand the prevalence of LVN roles within the broader employment panorama. It gives an idea of the demand for and distribution of LVN jobs in a particular region compared to other professions.

Now, let’s take a look at the concentration and employment levels of LVNs in the larger areas of California.

Table 3: Area, LVNs Employed, LVN Jobs per 1,000 Jobs, and Location Quotient

Metropolitan Areas with a Population over 1,000,000 LVNs Employed LVN Jobs per 1,000 Jobs Location Quotient
Fresno 1,800 4.51 1.06
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim 28,280 4.64 1.08
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario 4,200 5.01 1.17
Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade 4,200 4.08 0.96
San Diego-Carlsbad 6,150 4.13 0.97
San Fransisco-Oakland-Hayward 8,730 3.65 0.85
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara 3,020 2.69 0.63

The Los Angeles metro, the largest by far with a population of nearly 13,000,000 and growing yearly, logically takes first place regarding the total number of LVNs employed. Nevertheless, the Riverside metro shows the highest concentration of licensed vocational nursing employment in relation to other jobs and the national average or LQ. 

How Can I Become an LVN in California?

To become an LVN in California, you typically follow these steps:

  1. Meet the following prerequisites:
  • Be over 18 years old.
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent (GED).
  • Be a US citizen or legal permanent resident.
  1. Complete an LVN program at vocational, trade, or private LVN nursing schools in California, approved by the California Board of Nursing. Programs typically take 12–20 months to complete and consist of classroom instruction, labs, and supervised clinical practice. Research different LVN programs in California to find one that fits your needs and budget. There are also alternative methods to qualify for the licensure examination, such as graduation from an out-of-state approved practical/vocational nursing program, completion of education and experience in the United States military, or completion of other equivalent experience. 
  2. Pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN), a standard computer-based exam that tests your knowledge and skills in nursing fundamentals. You can prepare for the exam by studying review materials and taking practice tests.
  3. Apply for your California LVN license, which involves submitting an application form and official transcripts, paying fees, undergoing fingerprinting for a background check, and meeting other eligibility requirements set by the California Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians (BVNPT).

In addition, the state requires LVNs to renew their licenses every two years and complete 30 hours of continuing education units (CEUs) to stay current in the field.

California’s online LVN license look-up service, BreEZe, provides easy and reliable California LVN license verification using data provided directly by the state Board of Nursing.

LVNs in California are increasingly pursuing LVN-to-RN bridge programs to become registered nurses and advance their careers. With an RN degree—Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)—nurses gain higher responsibilities and come close to doubling their average income compared to the average LVN wage.

Golden gate bridge in San Francisco
The Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic symbol of San Fransisco, California.

How Can I Find LVN Jobs in California?

Nursa connects independent contractor LVNs, RNs, and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) with hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics across the state. Discover open PRN shifts, explore diverse healthcare settings, and find the flexibility and income you deserve.

No more endless searching. Nursa simplifies your job hunt, putting you directly in touch with facilities actively seeking LVNs. Save time, find high-paying jobs, and start making a difference today.


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