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Summary

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Video transcript available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvzxznYOhQM.
Quick Facts: Social Workers
2021 Median Pay $50,390 per year
$24.23 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, 2021 708,100
Job Outlook, 2021-31 9% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2021-31 64,000

What Social Workers Do

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

Work Environment

Social workers are employed in a variety of settings, including child welfare and human service agencies, healthcare providers, and schools. Most work full time, and some work evenings, weekends, and holidays.

How to Become a Social Worker

Social workers typically need a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. They also may need a license; specific requirements vary by state.

Clinical social workers need a master’s degree, supervised clinical experience, and a license from the state in which they practice.

Pay

The median annual wage for social workers was $50,390 in May 2021.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.

About 74,700 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 About this section

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

Social workers help individuals, groups, and families prevent and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Clinical social workers diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional problems.

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
  • Monitor clients' situations, and follow up to ensure that they have improved
  • Maintain case files and records
  • 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, being diagnosed with a terminal illness, or preventing and treating substance abuse.

Some social workers get involved at a broad level to help community organizations and policymakers develop or improve social programs, services, and conditions. This is sometimes referred to as macro social work.

Advocacy is an important aspect of social work. Social workers advocate or raise awareness with and on behalf of their clients and constituents. Additionally, they may advocate for the social work occupation on local, state, and national levels.

Social workers who are licensed to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders are called clinical social workers (CSW), licensed clinical social workers (LCSW), or have a similar title; specific titles vary by state. They provide individual, group, family, and couples therapy; work with clients to develop strategies to change behavior or cope with difficult situations; and refer clients to other resources or services, such as support groups or other mental health workers. Clinical social workers may develop treatment plans with the client, doctors, and other healthcare workers and may adjust the treatment plan if necessary based on their client’s progress. They may work in a variety of specialties.

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. They help students with problems such as aggressive behavior or bullying. Additionally, school social workers meet with families to discuss issues such as access to special education resources or frequent student absences.

Healthcare social workers help clients understand their diagnosis and adjust their lifestyle, housing, or healthcare. For example, they may help people transition from the hospital to their homes and communities. In addition, they may provide information about services, such as home healthcare or support groups, to help clients manage their illness or disease. Social workers help doctors and other healthcare workers understand the effects that diseases and illnesses have on clients’ 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. These workers often are licensed clinical social workers.

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 708,100 jobs in 2021. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up social workers was distributed as follows:

Child, family, and school social workers 349,800
Healthcare social workers 179,500
Mental health and substance abuse social workers 119,800
Social workers, all other 59,000

The largest employers of social workers were as follows:

Individual and family services 18%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 15
Ambulatory healthcare services 14
State government, excluding education and hospitals 14

Most social workers work in an office setting. They may spend time visiting clients and meeting with colleagues and community specialists or other support workers. 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.

Injuries and Illnesses

Social workers, all other have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. (“Social workers, all other” includes criminal justice social workers, adult protective service social workers, and forensic social workers, among other titles.)  

Work Schedules

Most social workers are employed 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 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.

Social workers typically need a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. They also may need a license; specific requirements vary by state.

Clinical social workers need a master’s degree, supervised clinical experience, and a license from the state in which they practice.

Education and Training

Most social workers need either a bachelor’s or a master’s degree from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the most common requirement for entry-level nonclinical social worker positions. BSW 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 social workers typically need a master’s degree in social work (MSW). These programs prepare students for work in their chosen specialty by developing clinical assessment and diagnostic skills. Some nonclinical social workers also may complete master’s-level programs. MSW programs generally take 2 years to complete and include a supervised practicum or 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, common majors include public policy and social services, psychology, or social science. Recommended coursework includes sociology, economics, and political science. Some programs allow graduates with a bachelor’s degree in social work to earn their master’s degree in under 2 years.

After obtaining an MSW degree, clinical social workers must complete supervised training and experience. The length of clinical training varies by state but may take several years.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require clinical social workers to be licensed. Some states also require nonclinical social workers to have a license or credential.

Becoming a licensed clinical social worker requires a master’s degree in social work from an accredited program and 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.

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

Interpersonal skills. Social workers must be able to work with different groups of people. They need to foster healthy and productive relationships with their clients, colleagues, and other support specialists.

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

Problem-solving skills. Social workers must analyze their clients’ complex situations and develop practical solutions.

Pay About this section

Social Workers

Median annual wages, May 2021

Social workers

$50,390

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

$48,400

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for social workers was $50,390 in May 2021. 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 $36,520, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $82,840.

Median annual wages for social workers in May 2021 were as follows:

Social workers, all other $61,190
Healthcare social workers 60,840
Child, family, and school social workers 49,150
Mental health and substance abuse social workers 49,130

In May 2021, the median annual wages for social workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals $61,190
Ambulatory healthcare services 58,700
State government, excluding education and hospitals 48,090
Individual and family services 46,640

Most social workers are employed full time. 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 2021-31

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

12%

Social workers

9%

Total, all occupations

5%

 

Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.

About 74,700 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

Projected employment of social workers varies by occupation (see table). 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. However, employment growth of child, family, and school social workers may be limited by federal, state, and local budget constraints.

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 will grow as more people seek treatment for mental illness and substance abuse. In addition, drug offenders are increasingly being directed to treatment programs, which are staffed by these social workers, rather than being sent to jail.

Employment projections data for social workers, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Social workers

21-1020 708,100 772,100 9 64,000 Get data

Child, family, and school social workers

21-1021 349,800 378,900 8 29,100 Get data

Healthcare social workers

21-1022 179,500 199,300 11 19,900 Get data

Mental health and substance abuse social workers

21-1023 119,800 133,200 11 13,300 Get data

Social workers, all other

21-1029 59,000 60,700 3 1,700 Get data

State & Area Data About this section

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 OEWS 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 on Entry-Level Education 2021 MEDIAN PAY Help on 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 $48,860
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 $49,880
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 $60,250
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 $81,040
Rehabilitation counselors Rehabilitation Counselors

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

Master's degree $38,560
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 $60,510
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 $74,000
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 $37,610
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 $48,520

Contacts for More Information About this section

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

Association for Community Organization and Social Action

National Association of Social Workers

School Social Work Association of America

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

Occupational Requirements Survey

For a profile highlighting selected BLS data on occupational requirements, see

Mental health and substance abuse social workers (PDF)

CareerOneStop

For career videos on social workers, visit

Child, family, and school workers

Medical and public health social workers

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,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm (visited November 29, 2022).

Last Modified Date: Thursday, September 8, 2022

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 and Wage Statistics (OEWS) 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 and Wage Statistics (OEWS) 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).

2021 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 and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.

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, 2021

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2021, which is the base year of the 2021-31 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2021-31

The projected percent change in employment from 2021 to 2031. The average growth rate for all occupations is 5 percent.

Employment Change, 2021-31

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

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 2021-31

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2021 to 2031.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

2021 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 and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.