Social Worker Salaries for MSW Graduates

A common question among prospective MSW students is, “What is the typical salary for MSW graduates?” The salaries for MSW graduates vary according to the field in which they work, the organization(s) they work for, and their region of residence. As a result, there is no typical MSW salary that students can expect upon graduation.

This resource article uses government data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to give individuals a sense of the range that is possible for social worker salaries. The BLS is a Federal agency that gathers and analyzes employment growth data, average salaries for different professions, and economic growth in different industries as well as in the nation overall. Through statistical research and analysis, the BLS measures labor market activity and working conditions in the United States.

The BLS classifies social work professions according to their work settings and the different clients they work with. Its three main classifications for social work careers are:

  • Healthcare Social Workers work specifically with individuals suffering from medical or health-related problems to help them cope with their conditions and/or find the care they need.
  • Child, Family, and School Social Workers counsel, support, and act as the social service liaison for children, groups, and families who are experiencing challenges such as domestic abuse or neglect, poverty, divorce, truancy, etc.
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers provide support and counseling services to individuals struggling with mental health issues and/or substance abuse. They also connect their clients to resources that can help them treat or address their problems.

While the BLS generally classifies social workers in the three fields described above, they also measure the salaries and labor market demand for social workers who work in other industries, classifying these social workers in a “Social Workers, All Other” category. Social workers in this category may work in industries such as:

  • Geriatric Care: Geriatric social workers provide guidance and emotional support to elderly individuals and their families. They typically help senior citizens and their family navigate the process of finding adequate medical, home, and/or nursing care.
  • Hospice and Palliative Care: Social workers who focus on hospice and palliative care help patients suffering from severe chronic and/or life-threatening conditions to find assistance, such as support groups or grief counselors, and also help their families to cope with these medical conditions.
  • Social Advocacy Organizations: Social workers who work for advocacy organizations can conduct research, lobby for legislative changes, educate the public, and promote awareness of various social issues affecting vulnerable populations such as children, the unemployed, and the elderly.
  • Government Departments: Social workers who work for government departments may focus on particular populations, such as veterans, the disabled, or the elderly, to help them find and use government aid. They may also work for departments that specialize in providing temporary aid to people experiencing short-lived yet acute hardship.

MSW Salaries by Social Work Profession

While the BLS provides salary information for different social work careers, actual salaries vary greatly by location, as well as by an applicants’ level of professional experience. Social work licensure and the type of industry can also impact the earnings of individuals in this field. Though variance in salaries is inevitable across social work jobs, the BLS does provide useful national averages of the annual earnings of social workers in various fields (Note: The following salary values are mean averages of national BLS data):

  • Healthcare Social Workers earned a mean annual wage of $52,520 in 2013. The top 10% of earners in this field had an average salary of $75,140 per year, while the bottom 10% of earners had an average annual salary of $31,790.
  • Child, Family, and School Social Workers earned a mean annual salary of $46,060 in 2013. The top 10% of earners for this profession earned an annual salary of $72,350, while the bottom 10% of earners had an average salary of $27,420 per year.
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers earned, on average, $44,420 annually in 2013. The top 10% of earners in this field had an average annual salary of $69,290, while the bottom 10% of earners took home $25,650 per year, on average.
  • Social Workers, All Other, which includes social workers working at social advocacy organizations, emergency services and relief aid, government departments, and other organizations that did not fall into the categories of healthcare, child and family, and mental health and substance abuse social work, earned a mean annual wage of $56,060. The top 10% of earners in this category took home an average of $81,770 per year, while the bottom 10% of earners took home $31,690 annually.

Salaries for Social Workers Across Different Industries

Social worker salaries tend to vary by industry. Additionally, prospective MSW students should note that the highest paying industries for social workers might not be the industries with the most available jobs. For example, consider the variance between the national annual mean wages of healthcare social workers in the top paying industries for their profession, versus the salaries of healthcare social workers in the industries with the highest employment levels (Note: The following salary values are mean averages of national BLS data):

Salaries and Number of Jobs for Healthcare Social Workers in the Top Paying Industries:

  • Health and Personal Care Stores: $72,840 (jobs estimate N/A)
  • Specialty (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) Hospitals: $62,280 (2,040 jobs)
  • Employment Services: $60,100 (1,030 jobs)
  • Agencies, Brokerages, and Other Insurance Related Activities: $60,000 (440 jobs)
  • Insurance Carriers: $59,010 (1,220 jobs)

Salaries and Number of Jobs for Healthcare Social Workers in the Industries with the Highest Employment Levels:

  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals: $58,050 (40,710 jobs)
  • Home Health Care Services: $57,380 (16,770 jobs)
  • Individual and Family Services: $43,040 (16,180 jobs)
  • Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities): $46,910 (15,480 jobs)
  • Outpatient Care Centers: $52,840 (8,650 jobs)

This variance across salaries is also present in other fields of social work. For example, consider the national mean average salaries for child, family, and school social workers and the average salaries for mental health and substance abuse social workers in the following industries:

Salaries and Number of Jobs for Child, Family, and School Social Workers in the Top Paying Industries:

  • Elementary and Secondary Schools: $60,480 (36,490 jobs)
  • Home Health Care Services: $54,320 (600 jobs)
  • Educational Support Services: $54,090 (3,540 jobs)
  • Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals: $53,590 (690 jobs)
  • Local Government (OES Designation): $51,060 (53,190 jobs)

Salaries and Number of Jobs for Child, Family, and School Social Workers in Industries with the Highest Employment Levels:

  • Individual and Family Services: $39,040 (61,730 jobs)
  • State Government (OES Designation): $45,680 (60,630 jobs)
  • Local Government (OES Designation): $51,060 (53,190 jobs)
  • Elementary and Secondary Schools: $60,480 (36,490 jobs)
  • Other Residential Care Facilities: $37,570 (10,150 jobs)

Salaries and Number of Jobs for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers in the Top Paying Industries:

  • Home Health Care Services: $62,090 (420 jobs)
  • Elementary and Secondary Schools: $58,320 (740 jobs)
  • Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services: $57,890 (150 jobs)
  • Specialty (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) Hospitals: $53,260 (330 jobs)
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals: $51,040 (5,570 jobs)

Salaries and Number of Jobs for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers in Industries with the Highest Employment Levels:

  • Outpatient Care Centers: $42,380 (22,570 jobs)
  • Individual and Family Services: $41,610 (17,800 jobs)
  • Residential Intellectual and Developmental Disability, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Facilities: $37,740 (14,300 jobs)
  • Local Government (OES Designation): $48,360 (11,910 jobs)
  • Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals: $49,830 (9,860 jobs)

The Variances in Social Worker Salaries Across States

Social worker salaries also vary considerably by state. Furthermore, the states with the highest employment levels for social workers are not necessarily the states with the highest salaries for this profession. For example, compare the salaries of healthcare social workers in the top paying states for this profession with the salaries of healthcare social workers residing in states with the highest employment levels (Note: All salary values are mean averages of state-level BLS data):

Salaries and Number of Jobs for Healthcare Social Workers in the Top Paying States:

  • District of Columbia: $68,380 (440 jobs)
  • California: $65,810 (13,260 jobs)
  • Nevada: $64,710 (650 jobs)
  • Connecticut: 62,600 (2,100 jobs)
  • Rhode Island: $61,030 (460 jobs)

Salaries and Number of Jobs for Healthcare Social Workers in States with Highest Employment Levels:

  • California: $65,810 (13,260 jobs)
  • New York: $57,390 (11,150 jobs)
  • Massachusetts: 56,570 (10,430 jobs)
  • Texas: $55,310 (8,410 jobs)
  • Pennsylvania: $47,650 (8,040 jobs)

As the numbers above illustrate, employment levels and salaries vary quite a bit across states. This variance is also present in other fields of social work. For instance:

Salaries and Number of Jobs for Child, Family, & School Social Workers in the Top Paying States:

  • New Jersey: $62,380 (6,860 jobs)
  • Connecticut: $61,800 (5,470 jobs)
  • Rhode Island: $60,170 (1,710 jobs)
  • Minnesota: $59,830 (5,780 jobs)
  • Illinois: $55,470 (14,450 jobs)

Salaries and Number of Jobs for Child, Family, & School Social Workers in States with the Highest Employment Levels:

  • California: $49,820 (28,840 jobs)
  • New York: $54,790 (21,440 jobs)
  • Pennsylvania: $41,510 (15,780 jobs)
  • Texas: $39,610 (15,010 jobs)
  • Illinois: $55,470 (14,450 jobs)

Salaries and Number of Jobs for Mental Health & Substance Abuse Social Workers in the Top Paying States:

  • Connecticut: $57,740 (2,110 jobs)
  • Wisconsin: $56,300 (1,610 jobs)
  • New Hampshire: $56,100 (310 jobs)
  • New Jersey: $54,360 (2,320 jobs)
  • District of Columbia: $54,310 (480 jobs)

Salaries and Number of Jobs for Mental Health & Substance Abuse Social Workers in States with the Highest Employment Levels:

  • California: $50,420 (11,210 jobs)
  • New York: $53,800 (10,340 jobs)
  • Pennsylvania: $39,240 (9,800 jobs)
  • Ohio: $40,350 (6,050 jobs)
  • Massachusetts: $47,840 (5,440 jobs)

Prospective MSW students should also note that the salary estimates above do not distinguish between entry level and more advanced roles. Additionally, these estimates are not just for licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) salaries and MSW graduate salaries, but also incorporate the wages of social workers who only hold a BSW.

Recommendations for Current and Prospective MSW Students

Due to the variance in the salaries of jobs that MSW graduates may qualify for, current and prospective MSW students should thoroughly research their desired career options to make sure they prepare both academically and through internships for a job that meets (or at least puts them on the right path towards) their salary goals.

Some recommendations for potential and current MSW students:

  • Students should reach out to professionals in the fields that interest them, whether these fields are directly or tangentially related to social work and/or social service. Once they have successfully connected with one or more professionals, students should request an informational interview. During the interview, students can ask about the types of graduate degrees that prepare individuals for a given field of work, the typical path towards advancement, the expectations employers in this field have, and other questions that can help them optimally prepare while in school.
  • Students should research typical salaries for the specific jobs that interest them, using sites such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online, Salary.com, and Payscale.com.
  • Students can benefit from making an appointment at their school’s career center and talking with a career counselor about their goals. A career counselor can help students map out a plan to achieve their desired profession, and can help them evaluate the salary potential of different career paths.
  • Students should check to see if the MSW programs they are thinking of applying to publish lists of where their graduates work. Looking at these lists can help students get a broader idea of where MSW graduates can work after they earn their degree.

About the Author: Kaitlin Louie is a content writer and editor who writes articles for OnlineMSWPrograms.com. She received her bachelor's and master's degrees in English from Stanford University, and aspires to be an author of fiction and creative non-fiction.

Sources:

  • “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Healthcare Social Workers,” bls.gov, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1 April 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211022.htm
  • “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Child, Family, and School Social Workers,” bls.gov, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1 April 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211021.htm
  • “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors,” bls.gov, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1 April 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211012.htm
  • “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers,” bls.gov, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1 April 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211023.htm
  • “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Social and Community Service Managers,” bls.gov, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1 April 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes119151.htm
  • “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Social Workers, All Other,” bls.gov, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1 April 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211029.htm
  • “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Social Workers,” bls.gov, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8 January 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm