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Are Social Workers in Demand?


As the demand for healthcare and social services increases, employers in all sectors need more social workers. Overall, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in social work to increase 11% between 2018-28, leading to more than 81,000 new jobs.

Employers need more social workers for a variety of reasons. The growing aging population and pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for healthcare social workers. Additionally, as student enrollment increases, institutions need more child, family, and school social workers.

Recent social movements have pressured state governments to reroute money from the police departments toward social programs, which could lead to further employment opportunities for social workers in all occupations.

The chart below shows that certain jobs in social work project more employment growth than others. Keep reading to learn how social worker job outlook varies by geographical region and occupation.

Child, Family, and School Social Workers

Employment in 2018: 339,800
Projected Employment in 2028: 364,600
Percent Change: 7%

Healthcare Social Workers

Employment in 2018: 180,500
Projected Employment in 2028: 211,100
Percent Change: 17%

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

Employment in 2018: 125,200
Projected Employment in 2028: 147,500
Percent Change: 18%

Social Workers, All Other

Employment in 2018: 62,000
Projected Employment in 2028: 65,400
Percent Change: 6%

Employment Outlook for Child, Family, and School Social Workers

With enrollment expected to increase, schools have a greater demand for social workers. School social workers help students with academic or behavioral issues. The BLS projects a 7% increase of child, family, and school social workers between 2018-28, expecting 24,800 new jobs added during that time.

Federal and state school budgets ultimately determine the number of job openings available. However, the disruptions to in-person instruction following the COVID-19 outbreak could lead to a greater need of social services for students and their families.

Employment Outlook for Healthcare Social Workers

The year 2020 has affected industries in ways the BLS could not predict. In 2018, the BLS projected a 17% increase of healthcare social workers employment, which would lead to 30,600 new jobs.

Healthcare social workers help patients to navigate their diagnosis and treatment. They enable individuals to find housing and access emotional and mental health services. The already faster than average employment projections could further increase as populations affected by COVID-19 and the growing aging community require more human and social services.

Employment Outlook for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

Mental health and substance abuse social workers coordinate treatment for patients coping with addiction and emotional and mental health conditions.

The BLS projects the field of mental health and substance abuse social work to add 22,300 jobs by 2028, the largest increase for all social work occupations.

As of 2018, the field employed some 125,200 mental health and substance abuse social workers. Employment is expected to grow as more drug offenders go to treatment programs instead of jails.

Locations With the Highest Employment of Social Workers

Social work employment rates vary across the nation. States with larger populations tend to have a greater demand for social workers. Metropolitan areas with dense populations, such as New York and Los Angeles, employ the most social workers, compared to nonmetropolitan areas, such as southern Pennsylvania and east Kentucky.

The greatest number of child, family, and school social workers work in California, with 32,620 employed in the state. New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Illinois also boast the largest employment of social workers, according to BLS.

Healthcare social workers, who mainly work in medical and surgical hospitals, primarily live in California, New York, Florida, Massachusetts, and Texas. California, for instance, has about 19,020 healthcare social workers.

The most mental health and abuse social workers, about 14,970 professionals, also live in California. Other states with the highest employment level of mental health and abuse social workers include New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Ohio.