How Much Do Social Workers Earn?


To answer this question, I looked at figures from two sources: the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and Regretfully, both sources seem to provide different numbers…

According to a 2009 study commissioned by the NASW (results of which were released in May 2010), social workers with less than 5 years experience have a median annual salary of $43,700; those with 10-19 years earn $52,000; and those with 20-29 years earn $60,000.

Interestingly, this is the range provided for social worker salaries on

  • Government $97K
  • Supervisory Social Worker $92
  • Supervisor Social Worker $91
  • Social Worker Hud Vash $82K
  • Clinical Social Worker $65K
  • Social Worker $65K
  • Social Worker MSW $61K
  • Psychiatric Social Worker $60K
  • Social Worker Case Manager $58K
  • Senior Social Worker $50K
  • Social Work Supervisor $48K
  • Licensed Social Worker $48K
  • Eligibility Social Worker $38K
  • Residential Social Worker $36K
  • Client Social Worker $18K

The titles in this list with their respective compensation levels do not necessarily make sense though. A social worker with a Master’s degree is listed at $61K vs. a social worker with an unspecified degree at $65K.

The learning that I think we may take away from this list is that there is a wider range of compensation available to social workers than indicated by the NASW study.

Furthermore, this wide variation means that if we want to increase our likelihood of being paid on the higher end, we had better arm ourselves with better credentials, licensing and experience.

In addition, I suspect that we need to engage some advocating skills on our own behalf during interviews with potential employers. Unless we want to be stuck on the low end, it is critical to negotiate our starting salary to be as close to the highest end of the starting range as possible.

Lastly, some of the differences between the two sources may be explained by the fact that some surveys excluded social workers with graduate degrees and some may be attributed to variances by region. To see my post on the breakdown by region, social work practice and type of setting, click on Social Worker Pay By Type of Setting, Practice Area & Region.

I hope you found this information helpful. How do you feel about this compensation range? Do you feel that it is fair given the amount of time and education that social workers need to invest in order to move up the ladder, so to speak? Do you know of other (perhaps better) compensation sources for social workers? Please share any thoughts or comments you have below.

June 2013 update: to get valuable negotiation advice, try out a new salary tool calculator, and/or find out pay differences by gender and setting or by educational attainment and experience, check out:  Do You Earn Above or Below Average for a Social Worker?

NASW Compensation Study
Indeed Source of Income on Social Workers



  1. says

    Beautiful work on your research! I think it’s so critical to know these ranges, and to know and claim not just your value, but make your experience and current credentials amount to more of the pie. We have to speak up, speak out! yes.

    What always amazes me, and we see this in our negotiation course, is that we think we need more training, more credentials, more something to JUSTIFY asking for what we’re ALREADY worth. So I say don’t be lured by the someday syndrome. Go in, be prepared, ask for the TOP of the range, know your bottom line and be prepared to walk away.

    If your potential employer counters with a lower number, counter back, and perhaps suggest other non-monetary concessions you’d require to be willing to take the lower salary. Stuff like flex time? Telecommuting?

    Negotiation is just one big improvisation, isn’t it?

    Another piece of research you could add is to look at non-social work jobs that have the same job level. For example, if

  2. says

    Hi Lisa,

    I like your approach… “Go in, be prepared, ask for the TOP of the range, know your bottom line and be prepared to walk away.”

    Thanks so much for visiting and providing your expert negotiation guidance!

    Sorry that you got cut off… I will try to find a way to expand the character limit :)

    If you have a chance later to come back and finish your thought, I’d love to hear more from you.

    Last but not least, in my particular case, I happen to have an MBA under my belt. Initially I feared that I would not be able to capitalize on this at all once I start out in the social work world but now that I’m thinking about it, that would be undervaluing myself/my skills. What do you think?

    With much appreciation,

  3. says

    Dorlee, I think I may have inadvertently cut my own text…”operator error” not your platform.

    Your MBA sets you apart from other applicants. Gives you a frame of reference, a perspective or set of perspectives you can draw on when necessary. So, for example, if you took a job in a senior living facility as a social worker/care manager, you would be valuable to the marketing people for your business experience, and you would be valuable to your residents for (potentially) understanding their money/investment concerns, as well as their work history and life story.

    ALL of you is what they’re paying the big bucks for. Know your value. This is THE hardest piece for women to learn and keep sticky.

    thanks for asking… :-)

  4. says

    You’ve given me much food for thought.

    I really appreciate your expert guidance on this matter.

    While I had learned how to negotiate well within the marketing world (it is one of the things that you learn about in business school), I feel like a fish out of water within the mental health field :)

    I hope you won’t mind if I reach out to you with another question or two as my graduation date gets closer.


  5. says

    It’s very hard to get an accurate picture of the social work workforce–there are no good studies of it. The NASW one is the best attempt, but it has many problems, the most important of which is that it used people who belong to major social work audiences as it’s data source–the reality is that most social workers don’t join professional social work organizations.

    The data also has significant flaws. The title “social worker” is not a protected title, that is, anyone can use it for anything–it’s not tied to a professional degree. So the jobs they report are not positions filled by people with a social work degree.

    There are many social workers employed in positions that aren’t classified as social work positions. For example, one of my faculty members told me today that she met a social worker who was the CEO of a hospice program. That job didn’t require a social work degree, but a social work degree qualifies you to have that job.

    There are some general principles when it comes to salaries for clinical positions:
    1) the private, for profit sector tends to pay more than the non-profit sector
    2) government jobs tend to pay more than non-profit positions, and sometimes than the private for profit jobs (depending on the government type, e.g. Fed, State, County & your geography).
    3) generally, if you want to make more money, you will need to go into supervisory and management positions

    However, salary money is only part of the picture. One of the lowest paying jobs in our region is an entry level MSW position at Catholic Charities. However, those positions are also incredibly rich training environments. Social workers get years of specialized, in-depth family therapy training and supervision(mirrored room type supervision). It’s hard to put a price on that.

    You can negotiate salaries, but there are constraints on that–do your research before hand. Non-profits that receive government contract money to serve clients who have no resources are generally more restricted in the salaries they can offer (often it’s retricted in their contract)–generally that’s true for non-profits who are relying on government contract money. Non-profits who are doing more fee-for-service can pay more, but they also will want to put their big money into fully licensed social workers (LCSW in NY State), than they will into a new graduate.

    What gets complicated about the above is that a given agency can have many programs and many funding sources–the pay scales might be tied to the particular program for a job with.

    Finally there are so many other factors that affect the quality of your work life–things like: room for creativity, quality of supervision, professional development money, required # of units of service per week, amount of paperwork at the agency, flexibility in your schedule, variety of work experiences, etc. Sometimes you can negotiate more on those things if you come up against a brick wall with salary.

  6. says

    Dorlee, all of the above in njsmyth’s comment is why you need to know what you value (intrinsic) and what your value is in the marketplace (extrinsic). They go hand in hand, but if your personal work doesn’t precede your workplace valuations, you will exhaust yourself and burnout.

    How can you make this transition work for both sets of values? Ask yourself…not the statistics.


  7. says


    Thanks so much for providing all this valuable information about the social work industry and the key flaws in the collection of salary data in this field.

    This begs the question as to why someone doesn’t come up with a better method… for example, why doesn’t some organization try to capture this data from graduating MSW alumni in all the accredited schools across the U.S.

    Now that I’m thinking about it, I will make a point of touching base with the career office of my school to see if they have been keeping track of salary offers.

    I’m not sure, otherwise, how one does “research” of what the real salaries are…

    Nancy and Lisa,

    Moving onto the other important factors of worklife, the training, the quality of supervision, the flexibility of schedule etc., I totally agree that those are extremely important items to take into account and may make it worthwhile to accept a lower salary with the right mix of intrinsic/growth factors.

    I’m sorry – I’m finding your second statement a bit confusing…Can you please clarify what you mean by “if your personal work doesn’t precede your workplace valuations, you will exhaust yourself and burnout?”

    With much warmth and appreciation,

  8. says

    You’re definitely right about the need to do such a survey. The deans in NY state are partnering with a workforce center to do exactly what you suggest. There are real challenges with this approach though, specifically:
    1) who will pay for it? it’s expensive to do it. NY State Deans are chipping in together, but it will be much more expensive nationally.
    2) Universities “lose” alumni, by which I mean that over time, your address data is out of date. It’s pretty easy to get data on recent grads—much harder when people have been out a while.
    3) Ultimately, I think the professional license boards are probably best positioned to do the survey, but it’s not included in their work scope. And most of those departments are understaffed. And there will still be people who won’t be captured in that dataset (probably that hospice CEO, for example). Finally, because they exist at the state level (not nationally) there’s lots of variation from state to state.

    If we had one big professional organization that both accredited schools and was the professional association, it might be easier to fund this. However, social work has two different organizations for these functions, unlike many other health professions.

    Ultimately what would probably work (just thinking out loud here) would be a federal mandate for license departments to collect salary data when people renew their licenses and then for that data to be pooled nationally.

    Just a final thought about making sense of salary data–one has to look at cost of living differences. 40k goes much further in Buffalo, NY than in Manhattan. There are plenty of web-based cost-of-living adjustment/comparison tools that can help with this.

  9. says

    That’s great to hear that the deans in NY State are partnering with a workforce center to capture the salary data from their MSW graduating alumni.

    It’s certainly a start despite the inherent imperfections.

    Your idea of a federal mandate for license depts to collect this data when people renew their licenses is intriguing.

    Now we just need to get someone with the where-it-all to hear your suggestion and make it happen!

  10. says

    Hi Dorlee, You initiated quite an engaging discussion that is very useful for people!

    Salary negotiations are very tricky, indeed. Your colleagues (above) have given you terrific advice and ideas, so I’ll keep my thoughts brief.

    I usually take salary surveys with a grain of salt. They provide good generalized information but there are so many variables that may not have been factored in (geography/cost of living, funding, scope of responsibility, etc) .

    In addition to survey information, a good source of salary ranges is usually colleagues or networking contacts. Of course, it is a sensitive subject, so one cannot ask the taboo question of “how much do you make?”….but it’s usually acceptable to ask what kind of range does X position fall within. If you can gather input from several people, then you will have a better sense of the true range.

    I do agree with the women who have responded….that experience is a key element, especially when one is new to their field. But of course, we all have to pay the bills. Sometimes the experience one gets in a particular job is more valuable than the money.

    There are various ways to negotiate, and often the nuances of how you ask the question(s) is crucial. I’d bore you if I wrote about them here!

    Great topics Dorlee. Keep ’em coming!


  11. says

    Terry, Thanks so much for providing your valuable insights into this discussion.

    I especially appreciated your advice on how to query colleagues and networking contacts about salary ranges. I would not have known how to handle that area…and would probably have avoided it but that would have meant that I would have been missing out on valuable info!

    P.S. You would never be boring… All your responses are most helpful and engaging :)

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