Bureau of Labor Statistics

Social Workers

social workers image
Social workers help people solve and cope with problems.
Quick Facts: Social Workers
2020 Median Pay $51,760 per year
$24.88 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, 2020 715,600
Job Outlook, 2020-30 12% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2020-30 89,200

Summary

What Social Workers Do

Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives.

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 $51,760 in May 2020.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations.

About 78,300 openings for social workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

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

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

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 715,600 jobs in 2020. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up social workers was distributed as follows:

Child, family, and school social workers 335,300
Healthcare social workers 184,900
Mental health and substance abuse social workers 124,000
Social workers, all other 71,400

The largest employers of social workers were as follows:

Individual and family services 18%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 14
Ambulatory healthcare services 14
State government, excluding education and hospitals 14

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.

Injuries and Illnesses

Social workers, all other have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. ("All other" titles represent occupations with a wide range of characteristics that do not fit into any of the other detailed occupations.) 

Work Schedules

The majority of social workers work full time. 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

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, candidates sometimes qualify for jobs with a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as public policy and social services, psychology, or social science.

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 field 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

Social Workers

Median annual wages, May 2020

Social workers

$51,760

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

$47,500

Total, all occupations

$41,950

 

The median annual wage for social workers was $51,760 in May 2020. 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 $33,020, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $85,820.

Median annual wages for social workers in May 2020 were as follows:

Social workers, all other $64,210
Healthcare social workers 57,630
Mental health and substance abuse social workers 48,720
Child, family, and school social workers 48,430

In May 2020, the median annual wages for social workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals $57,660
Ambulatory healthcare services 52,850
State government, excluding education and hospitals 49,860
Individual and family services 43,820

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

Job Outlook

Social Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

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

14%

Social workers

12%

Total, all occupations

8%

 

Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations.

About 78,300 openings for social workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Employment of child, family, and school social workers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2020 to 2030, 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 13 percent from 2020 to 2030, 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 15 percent from 2020 to 2030, 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.

Employment projections data for social workers, 2020-30

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

Occupational Title

Social workers

SOC Code21-1020
Employment, 2020715,600
Projected Employment, 2030804,800
Percent Change, 2020-3012
Numeric Change, 2020-3089,200
Employment by IndustryGet data
Occupational Title

Child, family, and school social workers

SOC Code21-1021
Employment, 2020335,300
Projected Employment, 2030377,400
Percent Change, 2020-3013
Numeric Change, 2020-3042,200
Employment by IndustryGet data
Occupational Title

Healthcare social workers

SOC Code21-1022
Employment, 2020184,900
Projected Employment, 2030209,300
Percent Change, 2020-3013
Numeric Change, 2020-3024,400
Employment by IndustryGet data
Occupational Title

Mental health and substance abuse social workers

SOC Code21-1023
Employment, 2020124,000
Projected Employment, 2030142,500
Percent Change, 2020-3015
Numeric Change, 2020-3018,500
Employment by IndustryGet data
Occupational Title

Social workers, all other

SOC Code21-1029
Employment, 202071,400
Projected Employment, 203075,500
Percent Change, 2020-306
Numeric Change, 2020-304,100
Employment by IndustryGet data

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) 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

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

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2020 MEDIAN PAY
Health educators Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers

Health education specialists develop programs to teach people about conditions affecting well-being. Community health workers promote wellness by helping people adopt healthy behaviors.

See How to Become One $48,140
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 $51,340
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

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

Bachelor's degree $55,690
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.

See How to Become One $82,180
Rehabilitation counselors Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, developmental, or emotional disabilities live independently.

Master's degree $37,530
School and Career Counselors School and Career Counselors and Advisors

School counselors help students develop academic and social skills. Career counselors and advisors help people choose a path to employment.

Master's degree $58,120
Social and community service managers Social and Community Service Managers

Social and community service managers coordinate and supervise programs and organizations that support public well-being.

Bachelor's degree $69,600
Social and human service assistants Social and Human Service Assistants

Social and human service assistants provide client services in a variety of fields, such as psychology, rehabilitation, and social work.

High school diploma or equivalent $35,960
Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors provide treatment and advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, or other mental or behavioral problems.

Bachelor's degree $47,660

Contacts for More Info

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

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

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

Related BLS Articles

Career Outlook: "Careers in social work: Outlook, pay, and more"

O*NET

Child, Family, and School Social Workers

Healthcare Social Workers

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

Social Workers, All Other

Last Modified Date: Thursday, October 21, 2021

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social Workers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm (visited November 24, 2021).

Telephone: 1-202-691-5700 www.bls.gov/ooh Contact OOH

View this page on regular www.bls.gov

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