Though you'll never own private jets or islands on the annual salary from a career in social work -- according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary is just a trickle more than $42,000 -- those who choose to pursue the field typically go in knowingly and trust that they'll find emotional rewards that out-value those gained from paychecks alone. What anyone working in the field of social work builds is a deep understanding of human beings and the life struggles they not only face but endure. Professional social workers have the ability to assist those in their times of greatest need in sorting out life's tangles.
"This work, by its very nature, has profoundly changed me," says Darren Adamson, PhD, LMFT, a Cedar Hills, Utah-based licensed marriage and family therapist of 26 years who is also an associate professor at Northcentral University. "I learn the deepest lessons life has to offer, from how to deal with tragedy, to how to cope with pain, to how to transform severe challenges and crises into growth," adds Adamson. He admits that social work is not for the faint of heart. His work in the field has forced him to come to grips with the heart-wrenching fact that some tragedies are indeed too much to bear. He admits to "being moved to tears" from time to time, and "moved to action."
While social-worker salaries are on the low end, especially considering that beyond the bachelor's degree required for most positions some positions also require additional training and/or education -- for example, clinical social workers must have a master's degree and must be licensed, while licensure for non-clinical social workers varies by state -- growth in the field is expected in the future. In fact, by 2020, a 25 percent expansion in the number of social-work jobs in the U.S. is projected. This growth is higher and faster than the average growth expected for other occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Social workers spend their days in a variety of settings and with myriad age groups, from young children to the elderly. As a social worker, professionals might work in a private practice or in a mental health clinic, or a school or hospital. Some social workers make many visits and are always on the go, which is a plus for those who do not want office-ridden desk jobs.
The top benefit to social work is being able to support people through some of the toughest life transitions, including going from independent to assisted living, says Shannon Webb, LSWA, MS, who is a social worker at Baltimore-based Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, who has been in the field 17 years. "Their lives are turned upside down because of a health crisis or because they must move from a more independent way of life to a way of life that requires needing help," says Webb, "and just like most of us, they would rather do things themselves. It takes some readjusting, and I am so happy to be able to help them cope with the emotional changes and to navigate through the medical system."
2016 Salary Information for Social Workers
Social workers earned a median annual salary of $47,460 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, social workers earned a 25th percentile salary of $36,790, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $60,790, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 682,000 people were employed in the U.S. as social workers.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Social Workers
- Darren Adamson, PhD, LMFT; Associate Professor; Northcentral University; U.T.
- Shannon Webb, LSWA, MS; Social Worker; Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital; Baltimore, M.D.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Social Workers
- Career Trend: Social Workers
Julie D. Andrews is a writer and editor living in New York City. Her articles have appeared in print or on the websites of "Prevention," "Glamour," "Fitness," "Shape," "Cosmopolitan Latina," "Elle" and "New York Magazine."