How Much Does a Social Worker Make?

Written by Ann Feeney
Last Updated: May 2023

Social worker salaries vary by experience, license, location, and specialty. Discover the job outlook and salary expectations for social workers.

While many careers offer higher salary expectations, many social workers enjoy a high level of career satisfaction. Among social workers with a master of social work (MSW) degree, 90% reported being very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their position.

How Much Does a Social Worker Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for social workers is $50,390, which is higher than the national median salary of $45,760 for all jobs. But, social worker salaries can range from $36,520-$82,840.

Salary by Social Work Specialty

Social worker salaries can vary by specialty, with healthcare social workers earning the highest salaries.

They typically work in a healthcare setting and help address patients’ non-medical needs, such as adequate nutrition or housing.

Mental health and substance misuse social workers earn the second highest salary after healthcare social workers. These professionals help patients with those specific health conditions.

Child, family, and school social workers are often based in schools and support children and families. These social workers earn slightly less than those in other specialties.

Average Salary by Social Worker Specialty
OccupationAnnual SalaryHourly Salary
Healthcare Social Workers$62,760$30
Mental Health and Substance Misuse Social Workers$60,130$29
Child, Family, and School Social Workers$56,680$27
Social Workers, All Other$64,360$31

Source: BLS

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Research How to Become a Social Worker by State

Each state sets their social work licensing requirements. In some states, you can pursue licensure with a BSW, while others require a master’s degree. Other requirements include getting the required experience and passing your state’s social work licensure exam.

How Education Affects Salary Earnings

As in other occupations, an advanced degree can lead to higher earnings. In most states, social workers need a MSW to get licensed. To teach in a college or university, lead a social work agency, or work in a think tank or major nonprofit, a doctorate in social work (DSW) or Ph.D. may be a requirement or strong advantage.

While it typically takes someone with a bachelor’s in social work (BSW) one additional year of education to earn an MSW, a Ph.D. or DSW can take 3-5 years.

Average annual social worker salaries vary by degree:

Licensing also affects average social worker salaries:

  • Licensed master social worker (LMSW):$56,000
  • Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW):$62,598

Social worker licensing requirements vary by state. But, only an LCSW can diagnose mental health conditions and provide counseling. Typically, an LCSW and LMSW both have a master’s degree, but the LCSW must pass the advanced clinical examination and may be required to have more field experience.

Social Worker Job Outlook

Overall, the BLS projects that social worker jobs will increase by 9% between 2021 and 2031, faster than the growth rate for all jobs. The demand will vary by location and specialty. For example, in states with aging populations, the need for geriatric social workers will grow faster, and substance misuse social workers will be greatly needed in regions especially affected by the opioid crisis.

In a 2018 survey of recent MSW graduates, around 50% reported difficulty finding a job they were satisfied with. However, only 9% reported that they faced a job shortage. About 83% reported that there were some to many jobs available in their region. Instead, the most common difficulty graduates faced was finding a job that paid adequately, with 33% reporting this as an issue.

Where Do Social Workers Make the Most Money?

Social worker salaries vary by workplace. According to the BLS, social worker salaries are highest in local government, followed by ambulatory healthcare services, and state government.

For child, family, and school social workers, elementary and secondary school social workers have one of the highest annual average salaries of $67,990. The next highest social worker salaries are for local government, state government, and individual and family services. The lowest average social worker salary is for those in community food and housing and emergency relief, earning an average annual salary of $44,010.

Among healthcare social workers, those working in hospitals earned a higher average salary of $72,980, and individual and family services made the least at $51,660 per year. Mental health and substance misuse social worker salaries are highest in outpatient health practitioner offices, with an average annual $75,780, and lowest in residential care at $46,260 per year.

Social Work Salaries by State

Social worker salaries vary by state and region, driven by demand and living costs. Typically, social worker salaries are highest in areas with a high cost-of-living index, such as Washington, D.C., Rhode Island, Washington, Hawaii, and California. However, some states, such as Oklahoma and Kansas, pay considerably higher social work salaries and have relatively low cost-of-living indices.

Frequently Asked Questions About Social Worker Salaries

What are the highest paying social work jobs?

The highest-paying social work jobs are typically in healthcare and local or state government. Salaries are typically higher in Washington, D.C. and states with large cities, such as Rhode Island, Hawaii, and Washington.

Can social workers make 6 figures?

In high-cost-of-living areas, the top 10% of social worker salaries can be in the low six figures, regardless of specialty. In some very expensive locations, such as Napa, California, the average social worker salary for a substance misuse social worker is $105,020. Healthcare social worker salaries also average higher than $100,000 in several cities in California, including San Jose and San Francisco.

Are social workers in high demand?

The BLS projects that social worker jobs will grow 9% between 2021 and 2031, which is faster than the growth rate across all jobs. Local demand may vary based on specialty. With the opioid crisis, the need for substance misuse social workers and similar professionals is very high in many areas.

Is social work hard to study?

Whether a field is hard to study depends on various factors like your interests and skills. Social work programs cover a lot of content and require field experiences, so these programs can be demanding. Some social work programs are highly selective, while others have very high admission rates. Talk to an admission counselor or mentor about what to expect from a particular social work program or specialty.