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How Much Do Social Workers Make?

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By Johnny Bevers

Social workers make enough money to live a very good life while helping individuals, families and groups solve and deal with problems in their everyday lives.  While some social workers work in groups or for organizations, others may work in a private practice treating patients with emotional or behavioral problems.  The salary for a social worker greatly depends on the type of social work they do, where they are employed, and their level of education.  Most people don’t go into this field for the money.  Instead, they have a strong, internal motivation, to help their fellow human beings.  Still, people serving in this line of work can make more than enough to produce a satisfactory living by just about any standard.

What is a Social Worker?

A social worker is a broad category that encompasses other specialty services. Social workers help people cope with everyday lives, but often specialize in specific areas, such as:

  • Child and Family Care
  • Clinical Work
  • School Social Work
  • Geriatric Social Care
  • Hospice
  • Medical
  • Mental Health or Substance Abuse

Social-Worker-Day-1 in action

In general, social workers do share some similar duties, including:

  • Identifying individuals or groups that may need assistance
  • Assessing the patients’ needs, issues, and identifying what support they need to recover
  • Evaluating services that are provided by organizations
  • Following up with patients to ensure care is working
  • Helping clients deal with government agencies and receive benefits
  • Protecting children and the elderly from abuse
  • Helping clients adjust to changes in their lives

In general, most social workers are full-time and salary-based, but there are some social workers that are employed on part-time/hourly as well as contract-pay basis.

The salary of a social worker often depends on their setting, which can be broken down into four different categories: general social work, healthcare social work, child/family/school social work, and mental health social work.

General Social Worker Salary

social worker on the phone

General social workers can be full-time, part-time, hired as a contractor by the government or even work in a private practice. These types of social workers average the highest salary per annum, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median annual wage for this type of social worker is $54,560, but there are some general social workers that make as little as $27,450 while there are some that can earn over $70,000 per year — especially those who work in a private practice.

Child, Family and School Social Worker Salary

social worker with children

Child, family and school social workers can work for private clinics, the government and of course, public and private schools. These individuals are specialized in family and child development. Some churches and health care facilities also employ these types of social workers. For example, you may find a child and family social worker at a hospital or through the Department of Child and Family Services for your local city.

Social workers who work at educational facilities typically earn an average of $54,590, while social workers working for local governments earn an average of $44,370. Social workers in a healthcare setting that specialize in child and family social work earn $36,130, while those working for churches or other private organizations earn $35,910.

Healthcare Social Worker Salary

social worker working with the elderly

Healthcare social workers are typically employed by hospitals, nursing and residential facilities, social assistance programs, and ambulatory healthcare services. These individuals often help patients coping with illness, aging or even dementia.

Social workers at state, local and private hospitals are often the higher paid, earning an average of $56,920 each year. Social workers in an ambulatory health care facility earn the second highest annual average salary of $51,580. Those in nursing and residential care facilities earn an average of $43,330 per year, while those in social assistance programs earn $38,920 each year.

Mental and Substance Abuse Social Worker Salary

Mental and substance abuse social workers work in social programs, nursing homes, drug rehabilitation facilities, etc. They specialize in substance abuse as well as mental illnesses, including schizophrenia or even bipolar disorder. They help patients cope with their situation, adjust and try to help them function in everyday life.

Social workers in this field that work for hospitals (both private and public) earn an average annual salary of $47,880. Those working in ambulatory health care services earn an average of $39,840 per year. Those working in social programs only earn $37,170 per year, while those working in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers earn $34,950.

Social Worker Pay Varies by State

There are some areas that pay more for their social workers than others. According to a recent study by US News, heavily populated metropolitan areas tend to pay their social workers more than other areas. For example: Nassau, New York social workers average $67,400 per year, while Waterbury, Connecticut workers average $65,180 per year.

When it comes to hourly rates, some social workers can make over $30 per hour, but the hourly rate also depends on the demand and number of open jobs. For example, a state like California averages $29.98 per hour, but has over 13,000 open social worker positions. Delaware, on the other hand, averages $28.86 per hour, but only has 90 average positions open per year. Idaho averages $30.96 per hour with 110 jobs open.

Social Worker Salary is Based on Economic Conditions and Demand

Just like most positions, social worker positions do see a change in annual salaries based on economic conditions. In 2008, the average salary for social workers went from $40,540 in 2006 to an average of $36,810. By 2010, social workers averaged $49,020 per year, but by 2012, they only averaged $45,300.

How to Become a Social Worker

social worker bag got social work?

Most social workers need a bachelor’s degree in social work, while clinical social workers are required to have a master’s degree as well as two years of post-degree experience in social work. Also, clinical social workers are required to be licensed in their state where they wish to practice.

Every state has its own license and registration requirements for social workers. But, also, treatment facilities have their own requirements. All states do, however, require clinical social workers to have a social worker license. Some states do allow exemptions, especially for those social workers that are employed by government agencies.

To get a license as a social worker, you typically need a master’s degree in social work as well as a minimum of two years or 3,000 supervised clinical hours post-graduation. Then, clinical social workers must complete an examination to complete the license process.

But, the requirements for social workers go beyond degrees, certificates and licenses. To be a successful social worker, an individual must have specific qualities that ensures they are good at their job. Some qualities a social worker should possess include:

  • Being Compassionate – A social worker is placed in a very stressful situation. They need to develop relationships with their patients and offer compassion to those patients — regardless of their history or own personal thoughts.
  • Interpersonal Skills – Social workers work with a variety of people, personalities and backgrounds. They need to have strong interpersonal skills so that they can establish trustworthy, productive relationships.
  • Listening Capabilities – Social workers talk a lot, but they also have to listen. They have meetings with groups of people and one-on-one meetings that require them to listen to their patients.
  • Organization – Social workers often manage multiple cases and patients at a single time. They need to be highly organized and stay on top of follow-ups, meetings, etc.
  • Problem Solving – Social workers are natural problem solvers. They must come up with solutions for their patients, help them cope with their everyday lives, and even find programs that can assist their patients further.

Social worker pay varies by demand, state and the type of social work they provide. Most social workers will find that salaries are close to one another and while there have been drops in pay rates, for the most part, social worker salaries have remained consistent across the country for the last six years.

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