Social Work Salaries and Hiring Outlook
Guided by social justice principles, social workers help vulnerable populations face challenges in their workplaces, communities, and relationships. Social workers empower people to change their circumstances.
To obtain state clinical social worker licensure, applicants must hold a master of social work (MSW) degree, while non-clinical licensure requires a bachelor of social work (BSW). A 13% projected job outlook for social workers from 2019-29 outpaces the average for all other occupations. Social workers' salaries depend on educational level, experience, and licensure and certifications.
Read on for more information and resources about social work salaries and employment.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Are social work jobs in high demand?
Yes. While the job outlook for all social work positions remains strong, some specialty areas are in higher demand than others. Higher school enrollment numbers and a growing aging population mean employers need more qualified candidates to fill roles as school and healthcare social workers. Increased spending in the healthcare sector has also created more demand for clinical social workers.
What field of social work pays the most?
The ambulatory healthcare services field pays the highest social worker salary at $83,050. Social workers also earn some of the highest wages at federal agencies, brokerages and insurance companies, surgical hospitals, and insurance carriers.
Is social work a growing profession?
Yes. The BLS reports a strong projected employment increase for all areas of social work, with employers adding about 90,700 social worker jobs from 2019-29. The exact job outlook depends on the social work specialization. More than any other area, jobs for mental health and substance abuse social workers should grow by 17% from 2019-29.
Will social work salaries increase?
According to National Association of Social Workers' (NASW) data, a social worker receives a $419 annual pay increase for every year of experience they gain. Education also influences pay rates. Advanced degrees, such as an MSW or a doctorate of social work (DSW), offer social workers the opportunity to further boost their pay.
How Much Does a Social Worker Make?
Median annual wages for social workers reach $50,470, and range from $31,750 for the lowest-paid 10% to $82,540 for the top 10% in the field. Social workers practicing individually and in family services settings average $43,030 a year. At the upper end of the pay scale, hospitals pay a median wage of $55,500.
Generally, those with advanced education, such as a master's degree, earn more money than those with a bachelor's degree. In 2018, more students earned an MSW than all other social work degrees. From 2008-18, the number of MSW degree-holders increased by nearly 35%. Professional experience also influences social worker salary.
BLS data indicates a projected 13% job growth rate from 2019-29. Healthcare social workers and those in mental health and substance abuse face even higher projected growth rates of 14% and 17%, respectively.
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How Education Affects Salary and Job Outlook
Education remains the greatest determinant of social work salaries. An advanced degree usually leads to higher earning potential. According to NASW, individuals with an MSW degree earn at least $13,000 more than BSW-holders.
Wages further increase for those with a DSW, who make $20,000-$25,000 more than social workers with an MSW. Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) data from 2018 confirms the benefits of an advanced degree. The CSWE found that enrollment for master's programs grew 37.8% over the last 10 years.
The demand for master's degree-holders remains strong in hospital inpatient facilities and higher education institutions, where social workers report a high job satisfaction. Many social workers who hold an MSW have no problem finding jobs locally or nationally. About 82.6% of MSW-holders found jobs in their local areas.
Where Do Social Workers Make the Most Money?
Industry strongly influences salary potential. The top-earning social workers hold positions in ambulatory healthcare services, the federal executive branch, agencies and brokerages, general medical and surgical hospitals, and insurance carriers. The uppermost mean social work salaries range from $83,050-$69,870 a year, with the top 90% drawing an annual mean salary of $90,800.
Specialty and location also influence what a social worker gets paid. In the next section, we look at how much child, family, and school social workers earn in each state.
Top Paying Areas for Child, Family, and School Social Workers
Demand, cost of living, and job growth result in pay differentials from state to state. The highest salaries for child, family, and school social workers go to those who live and work in the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maryland. Social workers in these areas enjoy annual mean wages of $61,910-$71,590.
Pay also differs by city, and metropolitan areas tend to pay social workers more than rural areas. The top cities with the highest wages include Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk, and Trenton. Social workers in these areas make an annual mean wage of $74,130.
Top Paying Areas for Healthcare Social Workers
Demand for specialty social workers fluctuates by state and city. Healthcare social workers make the most in California, the District of Columbia, Oregon, Connecticut, and Nevada, where annual mean social work salaries range from $72,640-$79,620.
The cities boasting the top social work salaries are not always located in the states offering the most pay. Healthcare social workers earn the highest salaries in New York City, Newark, and Jersey City, drawing an annual mean wage of $63,980.
The Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Anaheim metropolitan areas boast the second-highest wages for healthcare social workers, who take home an annual mean wage of $83,430.
This page features more information about how to become a healthcare social worker.
Top Paying Areas for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
Mean annual salaries for mental health and substance abuse social workers reach a high of $83,050 in New Jersey. Other top paying locations include the District of Columbia, California, and New York. Median wages in these states range from $66,080-$63,520.
On the lower end, mental health and substance abuse social workers earn $30,280-$40,450 in Arizona, Montana, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.
The highest paying cities for mental health and substance abuse social workers include Vallejo and Fairfield, both in California, where they earn an annual mean wage of $96,730.
Social Work Salaries by State
The sortable table below can help you identify the best states for social workers as you explore average salaries for different social work subfields. See how your state compares to the national average for each social work specialty with our easy-to-sort table.
|StateUS Average||Child, Family & School Social Worker Salary$49,448||Healthcare Social Worker Salary$57,704||Mental Health & Substance Abuse Social Worker Salary$49,151||All Other Social Worker Salary$60,596|
Resources for Social Work Students
- Association of Social Work Boards ASWB's website features a searchable database with links to licensing boards and applicable laws for social workers, along with information about social worker state licensure examinations.
- Clinical Social Work Association CSWA advocates for members and provides clinical practice information and resources, legal and ethics consultations, and discounted liability insurance. Students can join for just $25 a year.
- Council on Social Work Education CSWE offers leadership positions, publications, and a directory of accredited social work degree programs, along with networking events and meetings. The website features a resource section for students who pay discounted dues.
- National Association of Social Workers NASW provides practice resources, job listings, and specialty certification. Members receive free and discounted continuing education and discounted liability insurance. NASW encourages students to join at a discounted rate.
- Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care SSWLHC hosts workshops and an annual meeting and conference, along with other continuing education and networking opportunities. Other member benefits include a mentorship program and a career center.