Many social workers are drawn to the field by a desire to help others. Social workers help clients manage their emotions as well as external factors that may be causing distress or harm. However, even mission-oriented professionals like social workers may value financial security and well-paid career opportunities.
Marriage and Family Counselor: Marriage and family therapists or counselors work with individuals, couples or entire families to address relationship dynamics or issues. To work as a marriage and family counselor, a social worker would need to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). This designation allows social workers to conduct clinical therapy without supervision. Though marriage and family counselors can include both social workers and licensed marriage and family therapists, the role does represent a high-paying social work job.
Health Care Social Worker: Medical social workers support patients, families and groups as they deal with illness. This could include helping families cope with grief, helping patients accept diagnoses or advising family caregivers.
Additionally, an individual’s skills, success and clients or employer can contribute to a higher salary. There is no one factor that can guarantee a high-paying social work job. If you’re unsure what area of social work you would like to specialize in, salary potential should be one of many considerations.
Just like many other fields, location plays an important role in determining salaries for health care social workers. The following are the top-paying states for health care social workers as of May 2020, according to annual mean wage:
Washington, D.C.: $76,100
Employment industry also affects salaries among health care social workers. Not all medical social workers work in physicians’ offices or hospitals. Health care social workers who work in computer systems design and related services earned an annual mean wage of $75,370, the highest paying of all industries. Other top-paying industries were:
Business, professional, labor, political and similar organizations: $71,330
Junior colleges: $69,080
Specialty hospitals, excluding psychiatric and substance abuse facilities: $67,530
Scientific research and development services: $66,900
How Much Do Family Social Workers Make?
The mean annual wage for child, family and school social workers was $52,370 in May 2020, according to the BLS. Based on percentiles, the lowest 10 percent of earners made $32,300 and the highest 10 percent of earners made $80,290. The wide disparity between percentiles goes back to the factors that can influence family social worker salaries: location of practice, industry of employment and other factors that are harder to measure on a wider scale.
The top-paying states for child, family and school social workers in May 2020 according to mean annual wage were:
District of Columbia: $71,840
New Jersey: $71,110
Rhode Island: $65,430
New York: $63,740
When looking at metropolitan areas, the disparities in wages grow even higher. The annual mean wage for child, family and school social workers in Trenton, New Jersey, was $76,020 in May 2020. This could be because school social worker salaries are influenced by factors like municipal budgets.
The top-paying industries for child, family and school social workers by annual mean wage as of May 2020 were:
Business, professional, labor, political and similar organizations: $78,280
Junior colleges: $66,380
Elementary and secondary schools: $65,080
How Much Do Social Workers in Government Make?
In a 2019 National Association of Social Workers survey (PDF, 2.2 MB), just over 15 percent of respondents reported working in state, local or federal government agencies and another 6.7 percent reported working in educational establishments outside of higher education. Many social workers work either directly for a government agency, such as for a child welfare agency, or indirectly, such as for a public school district.
Because government employers are available to different social work specialties—a health care social worker may work for a veterans affairs hospital, a child and family social worker could work for a state or local government agency—it can be hard to track government social worker salaries.
However, substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors working for local governments, excluding schools and hospitals, earned an annual mean wage of $58,390 in May 2020.
Child, family and school social workers working for state governments, excluding schools and hospitals, earned an annual mean wage of $52,000 in May 2020.