Whether lifelong or acquired through illness or injury, a disability can affect an individual’s life on so many levels. Rehabilitation counselors are community and social service professionals who work with patients who have disabilities to help them lead more independent lives. The work of this profession is invaluable, but prospective rehabilitation counselors should know going into the field that salaries are not lucrative in this vocation.
Median Salaries for Rehabilitation Counselors
Although the career is rewarding in many other ways, rehabilitation counselor is not a lucrative occupation. In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median salary of just $35,630, which is less than the $38,640 median annual wage for all occupations. The highest-earning 10 percent of rehabilitation counselors earn upwards of $63,820 per year, but the 10 percent who make the least earn under $22,990 per year.
If you want to maximize your earning potential in this career field, you should look for job opportunities with state government agencies, such as state departments, divisions or offices of vocational rehabilitation. For the 14 percent of rehabilitation counselors working for state governments, the median wage is much higher, $51,350, according to the BLS. Other top-employing industries for rehabilitation counselors tend to pay considerably less. The community and vocational rehabilitation services industry employs the most rehabilitation counselors, 30 percent of the workforce, yet it pays the lowest median salary, $31,260. Individual and family services accounts for 19 percent of jobs and pays a $33,300 median wage. Nursing care facilities employ 12 percent of rehabilitation counselors, with a pay rate of $31,640.
Though the comparably low wages may not show it, rehabilitation counselors need an advanced education. Most states require a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, thousands of hours of supervised experience, a passing score on an exam and a license.
Best and Worse Locations for Rehabilitation Counselor Pay Rates
Wages for rehabilitation counselors can differ a great deal from one state to another – even within a single geographic region. The state with the highest pay rates for rehabilitation counselors is Alaska, which pays an average salary of $60,840, the BLS reported. In New Jersey, the mean wage for this occupation is $59,520 per year. Rehabilitation counselors in Rhode Island make $55,520, on average, with those in Maine earning a similar pay rate of $54,260. Colorado pays a $50,040 mean annual wage.
Unfortunately, many states pay rehabilitation counselors far less. Among the dozen states with the lowest average wages for this occupation, three states – Tennessee, Oklahoma and South Carolina – pay less than $30,000 on average in this career. Kansas and Arizona have similar mean wages of $31,310 and $31,750, with Wisconsin’s $32,250 median salary putting it not far ahead. In Mississippi, rehabilitation counselors earn $33,020 on average, similar to the $33,240 pay rate in West Virginia. Three states – Missouri, California and Wyoming – earn average salaries in the $35,000 range, narrowly surpassed by Montana, with its $36,120 average wage.
In the state with the very lowest wages, Tennessee, the average pay for rehabilitation counselors is just $23,900 per year, or $11.49 per hour, according to the BLS.
Benefits of a Rehabilitation Counseling Degree
The requirements needed to become a rehabilitation counselor are intense, yet earning potential in this career path is below average. However, there are other advantages of this career path besides salary potential. For one thing, the occupation is seeing much faster than average growth rates of 13 percent – near double the growth rate the BLS anticipates for all occupations. Over a decade, this job growth should result in 15,100 new jobs for rehabilitation counselors. The field also offers opportunities for workers who dream of establishing a private practice and being their own boss. Seven percent of rehabilitation counselors or self-employed, according to the BLS.
Rehabilitation counselor opportunities often offer excellent job benefits, according to the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. Rehabilitation counselors are more likely to have benefits like healthcare insurance, disability insurance and retirement savings plans. In fact, 90 percent of rehabilitation counselors reported having medical coverage, with more than 60 percent having dental coverage and more than half of rehabilitation reporting vision coverage. About 70 percent of workers in this field reported having long-term disability insurance, while 73 percent reported short-term disability insurance.
Upward mobility for rehabilitation counselors is high, according to U.S. News & World Report. That means plenty of potential for career advancements and accompanying salary increases. Earning the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) credential can help.