Social Work Salaries - How Much Do Social Workers Make?

When choosing a career, money isn’t the only factor. But it’s important to go into a career with your eyes open regarding average and potential salaries. How much do social workers make?

Social worker salaries range significantly depending on your level of education, position, industry and location. If you are contemplating a career in social work, you should research salary prospects in your area or in locations you are willing to move to. Also, consider your earning potential if you obtain a master’s in social work (MSW).

Salary Outlook

The annual median salary for social workers is $49,470, according to May 2018 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is not an average salary. The median is the midpoint of a distribution of salaries.

The lowest 10% of social workers earned less than $30,750 per year in 2018, according to the BLS. The highest 10% of earners made more than $81,400 annually that year.

Social Worker Salaries Vary by Position

Different types of social workers earn different salaries. As of May 2018, the BLS reported the median annual wages for the following types of social work roles:

  • Child, family and school social workers: $46,270
  • Mental health and substance abuse social workers: $44,840
  • Health care social workers: $56,200
  • All other social workers: $63,140

Wage Differences by Geographic Area

Social worker salaries also vary per state. A health care social worker, for example, earns an average salary of $72,640 in Connecticut while the same professional in California earns $76,450, according to May 2018 BLS data.

A boost in compensation in the highest-paying states or metropolitan areas may be appealing, but it’s important to consider opportunities for growth, career outlook and cost of living in those areas when deciding where to work. Below is a closer look at the highest-paying states for four categories of social workers: child, family and school social workers, mental health and substance abuse social workers, health care social workers, and all other types. All salary values represent mean (or average) salaries at the state level.

Child, family and school social worker salaries by location

The highest-paying states for child, family and school social workers, based on average salaries in 2018, were:

  • District of Columbia (D.C.): $70,270
  • Connecticut: $69,520
  • New Jersey: $67,700
  • Rhode Island: $61,440
  • California: $59,500

Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salaries vary based on specific location within a state, too. Five of the 10 top-paying metropolitan areas for child, family and school social workers were in Connecticut. But Salinas, California; Rochester, Minnesota; Trenton, New Jersey; Corvallis, Oregon; and Washington-Arlington-Alexandria in Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia also made the list of some of the top-paying metropolitan areas for family and school social workers/

The top-paying non-metropolitan areas were northwestern Idaho, with an average annual salary of $84,540, followed by Connecticut, southern Illinois, Hawaii/Kauai and northwest Illinois.

Child, Family, and School Social Worker Salaries and Jobs

CHILD, FAMILY, AND SCHOOL SOCIAL WORKER SALARIES AND JOBS BY TOP PAYING STATES
Top Paying States Salary Jobs
Connecticut $67,780 5,530 Jobs
New Jersey $66,610 5,470 Jobs
District of Columbia $64,800 2,100 Jobs
Rhode Island $61,530 1,520 Jobs
Illinois $58,140 12,420 Jobs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018

CHILD, FAMILY, AND SCHOOL SOCIAL WORKER SALARIES AND JOBS BY HIGHEST EMPLOYMENT LEVELS
Highest Employment Levels Salary Jobs
California $55,830 32,050 Jobs
New York $56,650 25,330 Jobs
Pennsylvania $42,860 19,440 Jobs
Texas $43,980 17,560 Jobs
Michigan $49,190 13,450 Jobs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018

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Mental health and substance abuse social worker salaries by location

According to the BLS, the highest-paying states for mental health and substance abuse social workers states in 2018 were:

  • New Jersey: $79,130
  • D.C.: $69,690
  • Hawaii: $67,930
  • Connecticut: $63,290
  • New York: $62,130

The top-paying metropolitan areas included seven locations in California. However, the number-one top-paying metro area was Trenton, New Jersey, with an average salary of $84,990.

The five top-paying non-metropolitan areas were Nevada, central New Hampshire, Connecticut, northwest Minnesota and south Nebraska.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker Salaries and Jobs

MENTAL HEALTH AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE SOCIAL WORKER SALARIES AND JOBS BY TOP PAYING STATES
Top Paying States Salary Jobs
New Jersey $75,870 1,560 Jobs
Hawaii $72,290 400 Jobs
District of Columbia $62,900 520 Jobs
Connecticut $62,800 1,910 Jobs
New York $60,460 10,580 Jobs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019

MENTAL HEALTH AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE SOCIAL WORKER SALARIES AND JOBS BY HIGHEST EMPLOYMENT LEVELS
Highest Employment Levels Salary Jobs
California $55,730 12,600 Jobs
New York $60,460 10,580 Jobs
Pennsylvania $36,800 8,640 Jobs
Massachusetts $44,740 6,720 Jobs
Texas $41,740 5,110 Jobs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019

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Health care social worker salaries by location

The BLS reported the five highest-paying states for healthcare social workers as of March 2019 were:

  • Nevada: $82,820
  • California: $76,450
  • Connecticut: $72,640
  • D.C.: $72,090
  • Oregon: $70,830

Seven of the top-paying metropolitan areas were in California. The highest-paying metro area was Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nevada, with an annual mean wage of $90,030.

The best-paying non-metropolitan areas for health care social workers were the border region of Texas, Massachusetts, North Valley-Northern Mountains region of California, Connecticut and Alaska.

Healthcare Social Worker Salaries and Jobs

HEALTHCARE SOCIAL WORKER SALARIES AND JOBS BY TOP PAYING STATES
Top Paying States Salary Jobs
Nevada $78,940 730 Jobs
California $72,770 18,150 Jobs
District of Columbia $70,580 530 Jobs
Oregon $70,190 1,480 Jobs
Connecticut $69,840 2,170 Jobs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019

HEALTHCARE SOCIAL WORKER SALARIES AND JOBS BY HIGHEST EMPLOYMENT LEVELS
Highest Employment Levels Salary Jobs
California $72,770 18,150 Jobs
New York $60,680 12,620 Jobs
Massachusetts $57,440 11,540 Jobs
Texas $57,980 9,980 Jobs
Ohio $54,170 9,810 Jobs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019

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As the numbers above illustrate, employment levels and salaries vary quite a bit across states.

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.

All other social workers salaries by location

According to the BLS, the the highest-paying states for all other social workers as of March 2019 were:

  • D.C.: $82,900
  • Hawaii: $81,790
  • Rhode Island: $75,710
  • Massachusetts: $75,340
  • Nevada: $75,020

California had five of the 10 top-paying metropolitan areas for all other types of social workers, including the number-one best-paying metro area. The annual average wage for San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California, was $97,520.

The best-paying non-metropolitan areas were Arizona, southeast Alabama, middle Georgia, southern Vermont and southeast Missouri.

Salaries Vary by Industry

Social worker salaries also vary depending on the industry or sector you work in. 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.

The BLS reported the 2018 median annual salaries for social workers in the top industries were:

  • State, local and private hospitals: $60,100
  • Ambulatory health care services: $49,840
  • Individual and family services: $41,810
  • Local government (excluding education and hospitals): $54,430
  • State government (excluding education and hospitals): $48,590

Note: The following salary values are mean averages of national BLS data:

Healthcare Social Worker Salaries and Jobs

HEALTHCARE SOCIAL WORKER BY TOP PAYING INDUSTRY
Top Paying Industries Salary Jobs
Insurance and Employee Benefit Funds $69,860 30 Jobs
Other Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services $65,720 40 Jobs
Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services $65,600 920 Jobs
Scientific Research and Development Services $62,740 150 Jobs
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals $62,510 47,960 Jobs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018

HEALTHCARE SOCIAL WORKER BY HIGHEST EMPLOYMENT LEVEL
Highest Employment Levels Salary Jobs
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals $62,510 47,960 Jobs
Individual and Family Services $50,630 22,690 Jobs
Home Health Care Services $59,970 20,540 Jobs
Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities) $50,910 14,510 Jobs
Outpatient Care Centers $57,730 11,360 Jobs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018

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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:

Child, Family, and School Social Worker Salaries and Jobs

CHILD, FAMILY, AND SCHOOL SOCIAL WORKER SALARIES AND JOBS BY INDUSTRY
Top Paying Industries Salary Jobs
Elementary and Secondary Schools $62,690 39,940 Jobs
Business, Professional, Labor, Political, and Similar Organizations $62,030 130 Jobs
Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services $61,550 130 Jobs
Technical and Trade Schools $55,700 90 Jobs
Other Schools and Instruction $54,700 280 Jobs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018

CHILD, FAMILY, AND SCHOOL SOCIAL WORKER SALARIES AND JOBS BY HIGHEST EMPLOYMENT LEVEL
Highest Employment Levels Salary Jobs
Individual and Family Services $42,300 76,480 Jobs
State Government (OES Designation) $48,020 63,100 Jobs
Local Government (OES Designation) $54,680 54,450 Jobs
Elementary and Secondary Schools $62,690 39,940 Jobs
Elementary and Secondary Schools $62,690 39,940 Jobs
Other Residential Care Facilities $38,540 9,670 Jobs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018

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Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker Salaries and Jobs

MENTAL HEALTH AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE SOCIAL WORKER SALARIES AND JOBS BY TOP PAYING INDUSTRY
Top Paying Industries Salary Jobs
Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools $61,360 710 Jobs
Specialty (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals) $59,660 250 Jobs
Offices of Other Health Practitioners $56,560 7,350 Jobs
Other Ambulatory Health Care Services $55,980 90 Jobs
Home Health Care Services $55,640 410 Jobs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018

MENTAL HEALTH AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE SOCIAL WORKER SALARIES AND JOBS BY HIGHEST EMPLOYMENT LEVEL
Highest Employment Levels Salary Jobs
Outpatient Care Centers $45,140 25,140 Jobs
Individual and Family Services $46,190 17,100 Jobs
Residential Intellectual and Developmental Disability,
Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Facilities
$38,480 13,060 Jobs
Local Government (OES Designation) $50,830 11,690 Jobs
Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals $52,830 10,300 Jobs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018

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Other Salary Data

In April 2018, the Council on Social Work Education and National Workforce Initiative Steering Committee from the George Washington University Health Workforce Institution released the results of a nationwide survey of 2017 social worker graduates. The study included 1,348 valid responses from recent social worker graduates with various levels of education, work experience, genders and races.

For female respondents with a BSW, the median income was $30,000–$34,000, and the average income was $30,064. For male respondents with a BSW, their average income was $37,188, with a median range of $35,000–$39,000.

Female respondents with MSWs earned an average of $44,309, with a median income range of $40,000–$44,000. Male respondents with MSWs earned an average of $45,524, with a median income range of $45,000–$49,000.

Factors That Affect Social Workers’ Salaries

Several factors affect a social worker’s salary, including:

  • Education: Some social worker positions require a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field and a license. However, clinical social workers are typically required to hold a master’s degree. Holding a higher degree might enable you to command a higher salary, though several factors influence a social worker’s income. A master’s degree alone does not equate to a significantly higher salary.
  • Licensure: There are several types of social worker licenses. The Association of Social Work Boards, which administers exams in every state, offers five categories of social work licensure: associate, bachelor’s, master’s, advanced generalist and clinical. You can obtain Professional Social Work Credentials or Advanced Practice Specialty Credentials through the National Association of Social Workers to showcase your knowledge and experience. Your license and credentials influence the type of position you can hold and your potential salary.
  • Experience: Typically, salaries increase during your career. A social worker with 15 years of experience might command a higher salary than a social worker starting their career. However, other factors greatly affect this. A social worker with fewer years of experience might make more in a popular metropolitan area than a social worker with greater experience in a low-paying rural area.
  • Industry: Social worker salaries vary depending on the type of social worker you are and the industry you work in. For example, a school social worker in a rural area might command a lower salary than a private social worker in a busy city.
  • Location: Your potential salary can be significantly influenced by your location. The cost of living and salaries are not equal across the United States. Some cities may, in general, offer higher salaries because of a thriving local economy.
  • Hours: Social worker salaries can vary depending on whether you are salaried or hourly and how much you work. Full-time social workers typically make more than part-time workers. Also, social workers who are paid hourly and often work overtime might earn more annually.
  • Gender: Few, if any, professions in the United States have eliminated the gender pay gap. It might be possible for men to negotiate higher salaries as social workers, though this is not necessarily true at a regional or facility level. Fully understanding social worker salaries in your area can help you negotiate an appropriate salary no matter your gender.

Tips 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.

A great place to start is to find an MSW online in our full list of programs. Here are some other 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.

Learn More About Becoming a Social Worker

Though there are social work positions that require only a bachelor's degree and license, many positions and facilities require social workers to hold an MSW. Earning a master’s degree is a traditional step in becoming a social worker.

Obtaining an MSW does not have to be an inconvenience. There are accredited part- and full-time MSW programs offered online. It is possible to continue to work while earning your master’s and furthering your career.

All salary and job information for all social workers was retrieved and updated as of 02/2019.