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The Highest Paying States for Social Workers


Social workers help vulnerable individuals access programs that better their lives. Typically considered a fulfilling career, social work carries an often inaccurate reputation for solely providing underpaying opportunities.

Like any career, social work salaries depend greatly on geographic location and employment setting. While social workers earn a median annual salary of $50,470, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the top 10% of social workers earn salaries of more than $82,540 a year. Many occupations within social work, particularly in metropolitan regions, boast high wages. For example, healthcare social workers in certain parts of California can earn an average annual salary of over $90,000.

This guide outlines the best states for social workers by geographic region and occupation. You can find data broken down by state and metropolitan area for different focus areas of work, including child, family, and school; healthcare; and mental health and substance abuse.

Where Do Social Workers Get Paid the Most?

Salaries for social workers vary greatly across states. The following table combines data from the BLS for the average salaries for four different types of social workers, including child, family, and school; healthcare; mental health and substance abuse; and all other social workers.

The Top 10 Highest Paying Locations for Social Workers (All Social Workers)

  • California: $68,910
  • Connecticut: $68,000
  • Nevada: $64,890
  • New Hampshire: $62,300
  • Maine: $61,140
  • New Jersey: $68,380
  • District of Columbia: $65,950
  • Hawaii: $63,200
  • Maryland: $62,140
  • New York: $60,700

Source: BLS

As the table above shows, the highest annual salaries for social workers range from an average of $60,700-$68,910. Aside from California, Nevada, and Hawaii, the highest paid social workers reside on the east coast.

Pay varies by region and correlates to the cost of living in those states. Other geographical differences, such as a region's population and population density, might impact its demand for social workers, which affects salaries.

Many of the highest-paying states boast multiple metropolitan areas, which typically offer varied employment opportunities, but often come with higher cost of living rates. As noted in the following tables, salaries for social workers within the state usually vary between dense metropolitan areas and non-metropolitan areas.

Top-Paying Areas for Child, Family, and School Social Workers

At $71,590, the District of Columbia offers the highest average annual salary for child, family, and school social workers. The chart below outlines the best-paying states and metropolitan areas for social workers in this setting.

Metropolitan locations, such as Bridgeport, Connecticut and Trenton, New Jersey offer social workers more money than those in nonmetropolitan regions. Nonmetropolitan areas, such as southern Pennsylvania and east Kentucky, offer some of the lowest wages with respective annual mean salaries of $34,150 and $40,490.

Top-Paying Areas for Child, Family, and School Social Workers by State
Location Employment Average Annual Salary
District of Columbia 2,250 $71,590
New Jersey 4,910 $68,830
Connecticut 5,360 $68,360
Rhode Island 1,660 $63,310
Maryland 4,610 $61,910

Source: BLS

Top-Paying Areas for Child, Family, and School Social Workers by Metro Area
Location Employment Average Annual Salary
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT 1,130 $74,130
Trenton, NJ 240 $70,890
Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 1,970 $70,610
Bismarck, ND 120 $68,200
Salinas, CA N/A $68,040

Source: BLS

Top-Paying Areas for Healthcare Social Workers

Salaries for healthcare social workers vary by state and metropolitan region, as you can see in the charts below. California ranks as the top-paying state for healthcare social workers, with an average annual salary of $79,620.

The highest paid social workers in metropolitan areas all work in California, the most populous state, with 39.6 million residents. Keep in mind that California has a high cost of living index of 151.7, compared to the average cost of living index of 100.

Top-Paying Areas for Healthcare Social Workers by State
Location Employment Average Annual Salary
California 19,020 $79,620
District of Columbia 440 $74,160
Oregon 1,810 $74,050
Connecticut 2,210 $72,980
Nevada 800 $72,640

Source: BLS

Top-Paying Areas for Healthcare Social Workers by Metro Area
Location Employment Average Annual Salary
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA 130 $90,120
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 900 $89,620
Salinas, CA 130 $89,500
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 2,520 $86,560
Napa, CA N/A $84,370

Source: BLS

Top-Paying Areas for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

With an average annual salary of $83,050, mental health and substance abuse social workers in New Jersey earn the most compared to other states. Large metropolitan areas, such as New York and Los Angeles offer the highest-paying salaries to mental health and substance abuse social workers.

The highest paid social workers in this setting work in metropolitan areas, whereas nonmetropolitan regions, such as southwest Maine and southern Ohio feature the lowest salaries, with respective annual mean wages of $62,760 and $43,240.

Top-Paying Areas for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers by State
Location Employment Average Annual Salary
New Jersey 1,670 $83,050
District of Columbia 630 $66,080
California 14,970 $65,020
Connecticut 1,920 $64,590
New York 11,540 $63,520

Source: BLS

Top-Paying Areas for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers by Metro Area
Location Employment Average Annual Salary
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 9,040 $68,300
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 6,570 $64,290
Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH 4,750 $47,010
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 3,410 $44,820
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 2,980 $62,050

Source: BLS

Social Worker Salaries by State

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