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Quick Facts: Social Workers
2016 Median Pay $46,890 per year
$22.54 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education See How to Become One
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training See How to Become One
Number of Jobs, 2016 682,100
Job Outlook, 2016-26 15% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 102,100

What Social Workers Do

Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Clinical social workers also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.

Work Environment

Social workers work in a variety of settings, including mental health clinics, schools, child welfare and human service agencies, hospitals, settlement houses, community development corporations, and private practices. They generally work full time and may need to work evenings, weekends, and holidays.

How to Become a Social Worker

Although some social workers only need a bachelor’s degree in social work, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree and 2 years of post-master’s experience in a supervised clinical setting. Clinical social workers must also be licensed in the state in which they practice.

Pay

The median annual wage for social workers was $46,890 in May 2016.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will be driven by increased demand for healthcare and social services, but will vary by specialization.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for social workers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of social workers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about social workers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Social Workers Do About this section

Social workers
Child and family social workers protect vulnerable children and support families in need of assistance.

Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Clinical social workers also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.

Duties

Social workers typically do the following:

  • Identify people and communities in need of help
  • Assess clients’ needs, situations, strengths, and support networks to determine their goals
  • Help clients adjust to changes and challenges in their lives, such as illness, divorce, or unemployment
  • Research, refer, and advocate for community resources, such as food stamps, childcare, and healthcare to assist and improve a client’s well-being
  • Respond to crisis situations such as child abuse and mental health emergencies
  • Follow up with clients to ensure that their situations have improved
  • Maintain case files and records
  • Develop and evaluate programs and services to ensure that basic client needs are met
  • Provide psychotherapy services

Social workers help people cope with challenges in their lives. They help with a wide range of situations, such as adopting a child or being diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Advocacy is an important aspect of social work. Social workers advocate or raise awareness with and on behalf of their clients and the social work profession on local, state, and national levels.

Some social workers—referred to as bachelor’s social workers (BSW)—work with groups, community organizations, and policymakers to develop or improve programs, services, policies, and social conditions. This focus of work is referred to as macro social work.

Social workers who are licensed to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders are called clinical social workers (CSW) or licensed clinical social workers (LCSW). They provide individual, group, family, and couples therapy; they work with clients to develop strategies to change behavior or cope with difficult situations; and they refer clients to other resources or services, such as support groups or other mental health professionals. Clinical social workers can develop treatment plans with the client, doctors, and other healthcare professionals and may adjust the treatment plan if necessary based on their client’s progress. They may work in a variety of specialties. Clinical social workers who have not completed two years of supervised work are often called master’s social workers (MSW).

The following are examples of types of social workers:

Child and family social workers protect vulnerable children and help families in need of assistance. They help families find housing or services, such as childcare, or apply for benefits, such as food stamps. They intervene when children are in danger of neglect or abuse. Some help arrange adoptions, locate foster families, or work to reunite families.

School social workers work with teachers, parents, and school administrators to develop plans and strategies to improve students’ academic performance and social development. Students and their families are often referred to social workers to deal with problems such as aggressive behavior, bullying, or frequent absences from school.

Healthcare social workers help patients understand their diagnosis and make the necessary adjustments to their lifestyle, housing, or healthcare. For example, they may help people make the transition from the hospital back to their homes and communities. In addition, they may provide information on services, such as home healthcare or support groups, to help patients manage their illness or disease. Social workers help doctors and other healthcare professionals understand the effects that diseases and illnesses have on patients’ mental and emotional health. Some healthcare social workers specialize in geriatric social work, hospice and palliative care, or medical social work.

Mental health and substance abuse social workers help clients with mental illnesses or addictions. They provide information on services, such as support groups and 12-step programs, to help clients cope with their illness. Many clinical social workers function in these roles as well.

Work Environment About this section

Social workers
Although most social workers work in an office, they may spend a lot of time away from the office visiting clients.

Social workers held about 682,100 jobs in 2016. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up social workers was distributed as follows:

Child, family, and school social workers 317,600
Healthcare social workers 176,500
Mental health and substance abuse social workers 123,900
Social workers, all other 64,000

The largest employers of social workers were as follows:

Individual and family services 18%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 14
Ambulatory healthcare services 13
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 13
Hospitals; state, local, and private 12

Although most social workers work in an office, they may spend time visiting clients. School social workers may be assigned to multiple schools and travel around the school district to see students. Understaffing and large caseloads may cause the work to be stressful.

Social workers may work remotely through distance counseling, using videoconferencing or mobile technology to meet with clients and organize support and advocacy groups.

Work Schedules

The majority of social workers worked full time in 2016. They sometimes work evenings, weekends, and holidays to see clients or attend meetings, and they may be on call.

How to Become a Social Worker About this section

social workers image
Clinical social workers need a master's degree, supervised experience, and a license to provide mental health or counseling services.

Although some social workers only need a bachelor’s degree in social work, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree and 2 years of experience in a supervised clinical setting after they’ve completed their degree. Clinical social workers must also be licensed by their state.

Education and Training

There are multiple educational pathways to becoming a social worker, depending on the specialty.

A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the most common requirement for entry-level administrative positions. However, some employers may hire workers who have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology or sociology.

A BSW prepares students for direct-service positions such as caseworker or mental health assistant. These programs teach students about diverse populations, human behavior, social welfare policy, and ethics in social work. All programs require students to complete supervised fieldwork or an internship.

Clinical positions require a master’s degree in social work (MSW), which generally takes 2 years to complete. MSW programs prepare students for work in their chosen specialty by developing clinical assessment and management skills. All programs require students to complete a supervised practicum or an internship.

A bachelor’s degree in social work is not required in order to enter a master’s degree program in social work. Although a bachelor’s degree in almost any major is acceptable, courses in psychology, sociology, economics, and political science are recommended. Some programs allow graduates with a bachelor’s degree in social work to earn their master’s degree in 1 year.

In 2017, there were more than 500 bachelor’s degree programs and more than 200 master’s degree programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

Two years of supervised training and experience after obtaining an MA degree is typically required for clinical social workers.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require clinical social workers to be licensed, and most states require licensure or certification for nonclinical social workers. Becoming a licensed clinical social worker requires a master’s degree in social work and a minimum of 2 years of supervised clinical experience after graduation. After completing their supervised experience, clinical social workers must pass a clinical exam to be licensed.

Because licensing requirements vary by state, those interested should contact their state licensure board. For more information about regulatory licensure boards by state, visit the Association of Social Work Boards.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Clients talk to social workers about challenges in their lives. To provide effective help, social workers must be able to listen to and understand their clients’ needs.

Emotional skills. Social workers often work with people who are in stressful and difficult situations. To develop strong relationships, they must have patience, compassion, and empathy for their clients.

Interpersonal skills. Social workers need to be able to work with different groups of people. They need strong interpersonal skills to foster healthy and productive relationships with their clients and colleagues.

Organizational skills. Social workers must help and manage multiple clients, often assisting with their paperwork or documenting their treatment.

Problem-solving skills. Social workers need to develop practical and innovative solutions to their clients’ problems.

Pay About this section

Social Workers

Median annual wages, May 2016

Social workers

$46,890

Counselors, social workers, and other community and social service specialists

$43,020

Total, all occupations

$37,040

 

The median annual wage for social workers was $46,890 in May 2016. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,800, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $78,510.

Median annual wages for social workers in May 2016 were as follows:

Social workers, all other $60,230
Healthcare social workers 53,760
Child, family, and school social workers 43,250
Mental health and substance abuse social workers 42,700

In May 2016, the median annual wages for social workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private $57,650
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 52,370
Ambulatory healthcare services 47,130
State government, excluding education and hospitals 44,320
Individual and family services 39,260

The majority of social workers worked full time in 2016. They sometimes work evenings, weekends, and holidays to see clients or attend meetings, and they may be on call.

Job Outlook About this section

Social Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2016-26

Social workers

15%

Counselors, social workers, and other community and social service specialists

15%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster average for all occupations. Increased demand for healthcare and social services will drive demand for social workers, but growth will vary by specialization.

Employment of child, family, and school social workers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. Child and family social workers will be needed to work with families to strengthen parenting skills, prevent child abuse, and identify alternative homes for children who are unable to live with their biological families. In schools, more social workers will be needed as student enrollments rise. However, employment growth of child, family, and school social workers may be limited by federal, state, and local budget constraints.

Employment of healthcare social workers is projected to grow 19 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Healthcare social workers will continue to be needed to help aging populations and their families adjust to new treatments, medications, and lifestyles.

Employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers is projected to grow 18 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment will grow as more people seek treatment for mental illness and substance abuse. In addition, drug offenders are increasingly being sent to treatment programs, which are staffed by these social workers, rather than being sent to jail.

Job Prospects

Overall, job prospects should be very good, particularly for clinical social workers. The continuing growth of healthcare spending and treatment increases the opportunities for clinical social workers as compared to social workers who do not offer treatment services.

Employment projections data for social workers, 2016-26
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Social workers

21-1020 682,100 784,200 15 102,100 employment projections excel document xlsx

Child, family, and school social workers

21-1021 317,600 359,700 13 42,100 employment projections excel document xlsx

Healthcare social workers

21-1022 176,500 209,300 19 32,700 employment projections excel document xlsx

Mental health and substance abuse social workers

21-1023 123,900 146,100 18 22,200 employment projections excel document xlsx

Social workers, all other

21-1029 64,000 69,000 8 5,000 employment projections excel document xlsx

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of social workers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2016 MEDIAN PAY Help
Health educators

Health Educators and Community Health Workers

Health educators teach people about behaviors that promote wellness. They develop and implement strategies to improve the health of individuals and communities. Community health workers collect data and discuss health concerns with members of specific populations or communities.

See How to Become One $44,390
Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists

Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and family therapists help people manage and overcome problems with family and other relationships.

Master's degree $49,170
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists provide social services to assist in rehabilitation of law offenders in custody or on probation or parole.

Bachelor's degree $50,160
Psychologists

Psychologists

Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how individuals relate to one another and to their environments. They use their findings to help improve processes and behaviors.

See How to Become One $75,230
Rehabilitation counselors

Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, developmental, or emotional disabilities live independently. They work with clients to overcome or manage the personal, social, or psychological effects of disabilities on employment or independent living.

Master's degree $34,670
School and Career Counselors

School and Career Counselors

School counselors help students develop the academic and social skills needed to succeed in school. Career counselors help people choose careers and follow a path to employment.

Master's degree $54,560
Social and community service managers

Social and Community Service Managers

Social and community service managers coordinate and supervise social service programs and community organizations. They manage workers who provide social services to the public.

Bachelor's degree $64,680
Social and human service assistants

Social and Human Service Assistants

Social and human service assistants provide client services, including support for families, in a wide variety of fields, such as psychology, rehabilitation, and social work. They assist other workers, such as social workers, and they help clients find benefits or community services.

High school diploma or equivalent $31,810
Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, mental health issues, or other mental or behavioral problems. They provide treatment and support to help clients recover from addiction or modify problem behaviors.

See How to Become One $42,150

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about social workers and clinical social workers, visit

American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work

Association for Community Organization and Social Administration

National Association of Social Workers

For more information about accredited social work degree programs, visit

Council on Social Work Education

MSW Guide

Online MSW Programs

For more information about licensure requirements, visit

Association of Social Work Boards

CareerOneStop

For a career video on mental health and substance abuse social workers, visit

Mental health and substance abuse social workers

O*NET

Child, Family, and School Social Workers

Healthcare Social Workers

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

Social Workers, All Other

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social Workers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm (visited November 28, 2017).

Last Modified Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2016

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2016, which is the base year of the 2016-26 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2016-26

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.