Those professionals considering a career in the social work field should consider how the typical social worker salary might affect their long-term career plans. The overall profession typically earns right around the average American wage for all professions combined, with those who have been in the industry for an extended period of time typically earning dramatically higher salaries than those who are just beginning their career in an entry-level position. Because average salaries can vary based on experience and location, it's worth considering averages in several unique ways.
A Nationwide View of Social Workers' Salaries
Nationwide, the typical social worker brings home an average annual salary of just about $44,200. That equates to an hourly wage of $21.25, which is slightly below the average American hourly wage. Even so, social workers are positioned quite well for salary growth. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics in the United States estimates the profession will grow by 19 percent between 2010 and 2020, which represents a growth rate that is slightly faster than the average for all careers combined. As with any fast-growing occupation, those who are the most highly qualified will be able to increase their pay quickly and dramatically after they gain a few years of experience.
As proof of this, it's worth noting that social workers in the top 10 percent of all earners within the profession earn about $71,000 each year. That's well above the median American salary and among the highest for professions in community care, counseling, and nonprofit work. As occupational growth continues and employers continue to reward work experience, training, and higher demand, social workers can likely expect that number to inch consistently higher on at least a yearly basis.
Geographical and Professional Factors: Not All Social Work Jobs are Created Equal
Though it's easy to lump all social workers nationwide together when considering average annual compensation, it's worth noting that pay does vary based on geographical location and professional responsibilities. After all, employers often need to adjust for dramatically higher-than-average costs of living, different types of workplace roles, and other factors. Social workers in the greater New York metropolitan area, for instance, can expect to earn upwards of $63,000 per year on average, even for entry-level positions. The same is true in the Chicago suburbs, which are characterized by a similarly high cost of living.
Clinical social workers are often the highest-paid professionals within the social work industry, with an average annual salary of over $50,000 at all levels. Massage and family therapists also earn slightly above the average for all social workers, as do family services social workers. The lowest-paid segment of the profession by far is populated by substance abuse and mental health counselors, who both earn less than the average salary for all social workers combined.
A Growing Profession with Ample Opportunity at All Levels
There are a significant number of opportunities for social workers in today's economy, and virtually all of them provide a living wage either at or above the median wage for all American professions. With faster than average growth expected through the end of the decade, those who are vying for a rewarding career in the social work field will likely experience quick and dramatic increases in pay as they take on added responsibility in the workplace. For this reason, it's worth keeping an eye not only on the current average social worker salary, but also the trend for the profession over several years.