With your emotional skills, interpersonal skills, communication and organizational skills, you could be a great social worker. However, it’s natural to want to know that this demanding career, and the college education needed to attain it, are worthwhile. Social work is not a career field for individuals whose primary career motivation is money, but it is a fulfilling vocation that offers a pay rate above the median wage for all occupations.
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Median Wages for American Social Workers
The median, or midpoint, salary for social workers in America is $49,470, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). By job type, social workers in the fields of mental health and substance abuse are the lowest paid, with a median wage of $44,840. Next are social workers who work with children, families and schools, earning a median salary of $46,270. Healthcare social workers see slightly higher wages, with a median of $56,200. Social workers in other areas earn the most money, with a median salary of $63,140.
Among the industries that employ the most social workers, hospitals are home to the most lucrative opportunities, paying a median wage of $60,100. Social workers who work for local government agencies earn a $54,430 median annual salary. Wages are similar between social workers in ambulatory healthcare services, making $49,840, and state government jobs, where the median wage is $48,590. The industry of individual and family services, which employs nearly one in five social workers, has the lowest median wage, $41,810.
Among child, family and school social workers, the highest-paying areas of the U.S. include Washington, D.C., Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island and California, with average wages ranging from $59,500 to $70,270, the BLS reported.
Ways to Increase Your Income Potential as a Social Worker
Even if you know that social worker is the vocation for you, you don’t have to settle for a lower salary. You can increase your earning potential by advancing your education, choosing a specialty with a higher pay rate, acquiring your license to work in a clinical social worker function or moving up into management roles.
The minimum education you must have to become a social worker is a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. However, there’s a considerable wage premium – 25 percent, according to the BLS – for social workers who earn their Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) reported that social workers who attain their MSW degrees earn more than $13,000 per year above what their peers with only BSW degrees earn. Social workers who choose to pursue a doctorate, whether a Ph.D. in Social Work or a Doctor of Social Work, see wages $20,000 to $25,000 more than those with their MSW, according to NASW.
Just as different industries offer different pay rates, so do different specializations within the field of social work. Compared to a low-paying social work specialty like geriatric medical social worker, with its $41,228 average salary, specialties like medical social worker and social work case manager, which have median wages of $51,000 or higher, pay well.
In addition to bumping up your income potential on its own, earning your MSW degree also allows you to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Clinical social work expands the scope of services a social worker is able to provide to include testing and treatment for mental health disorders. Some sources report that median salaries for clinical social workers are as high as $66,625. As a clinical social worker, you have the potential to work for yourself, seeing clients in private practice, which can ultimately give you more control over your earnings as you determine how many clients to take on, how many hours you want to work and what, if any, health insurance policies you want to accept for your mental health services.
What management roles exist in the field of social work? One opportunity open to candidates with their MSW degree and sufficient work experience is non-profit director, for which the median salary is $64,079. The median wage for social and community service managers, according to the BLS, is $65,320. Local government jobs are the highest-paying roles in this field, with a median wage of $83,660.
Although the salary potential for social workers is not extraordinary, it is still above the $38,640 median wage for all occupations in the U.S. The best social workers are drawn to the field because of the potential to do good, rather than the salary potential.