How Much Social Workers Make? Learn About Social Work Pathways and Earning Power

Written by Rebecca Munday
Last Updated: June 2023

Social workers provide vital services to individuals, families, and communities. But finding out how much social workers earn may be challenging. They can have various titles and specialties, not to mention different levels of licensure — all of which can significantly influence salaries.

In this guide, we’ll help you navigate these numbers by breaking down salary data by education, experience, and location. Learn how much you can make as a social worker and the best ways to increase your earning potential.

Social Work Salaries: An Overview

The median salary for social workers is $50,390 per year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This figure comes out to about $24 an hour.

The social work specialty you choose affects your salary potential. Healthcare social workers make a median salary of $60,840, according to the BLS. Mental health and substance misuse workers earn a median salary of $49,130, about $10,000 less than healthcare social workers.

Experience, education, work setting, and cost of living affect your salary as a social worker.

Social Work Salaries
10th Percentile Median Salary (50th Percentile) 90th Percentile

Source: BLS

How Education Affects Social Work Salaries

You may start your career as a case manager or care coordinator after you get your bachelors in social work (BSW). Yet, a master’s degree in social work (MSW) opens you to opportunities with increased responsibility, leadership opportunities, and pay. Some of these opportunities include:

  • Teaching at the postsecondary level
  • Practicing clinical social work
  • Supervising other social workers
  • Opening your own practice

With a Ph.D. or doctor of social work, you can earn $20,000-$25,000 more annually than with an MSW, according to the National Association of Social Workers.

How Experience Affects Social Work Salaries

As with most professions, the more experience you have as a social worker, the higher your potential earnings. According to Payscale, social workers with 5-9 years of experience reported annual salaries of $9,000 more than entry-level social workers.

Licensed clinical social workers make an average annual salary of $62,600. This annual salary is nearly $11,990 more than the average annual salary of generalist social workers.

Experience helps increase your pay as a social worker. Average salaries for social workers increase by about $15,000-$20,000 throughout their careers.

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Highest Paying Careers in Social Work

You can make $50,000 or more in average annual salary with a BSW in social work, but most of the highest-paying careers require or recommend an MSW. Advancement in some of these careers requires a clinical license and the ability to supervise other social workers.

Highest Paying Careers in Social Work
CareerAverage Annual SalaryDegree Required
Professor of Social Work$89,830MSW
Social Work Supervisor $63,800MSW
Clinical Social Work$62,600MSW
Healthcare Social Worker $59,310BSW, MSW recommended
Hospice Social Worker $56,950MSW
School Social Worker$51,060BSW
Care Coordinator$49,730BSW
Bereavement Coordinator $48,780MSW
Case Manager$44,760BSW recommended
Generalist Social Work $43,400BSW, MSW recommended
Substance Misuse Counselor $43,360MSW

Source: Payscale, May 2023

Where Do Social Workers Make the Most Money?

Your work location and setting can significantly impact your salary. States and metropolitan areas with higher costs of living often pay social workers more than average. Healthcare social workers typically make more money than social workers in other industries. Social workers can make higher than average salaries if they work for these employers:

  • Federal, state, and local governments
  • Hospitals
  • Home health services
  • Offices of physicians
  • Schools

Top Paying States for Social Workers

Most states that pay social workers higher than average salaries have high living costs. For example, Connecticut pays higher than average salaries for social workers in a variety of fields, and they have the eighth highest cost of living in the country.

States with the Highest Average Annual Salaries for Social Workers
Child, Family, and School Social Workers
New Jersey$75,590
New York$70,690
Washington D.C.$69,980
Healthcare Social Workers
Rhode Island$74,110
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
New Jersey$92,850
New York$79,700
Washington D.C.$72,990
All Other Social Workers
Rhode Island$84,430
Washington D.C.$79,520

Source: BLS

Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Social Workers

Most of the top-paying metropolitan areas for social workers are in California or other states with higher costs of living, including Connecticut and Washington.

Metropolitan Areas with the Highest Annual Average Salaries for Social Workers
Child, Family, and School Social Workers
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$80,390
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 76,200
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT$75,540
Trenton, NJ$74,560
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA$73,910
Healthcare Social Workers
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$109,530
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA$104,200
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA$103,180
Santa Rosa, CA$103,130
Yuba City, CA$99,910
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
Napa, CA$105,020
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA$98,390
Madera, CA$95,060
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$93,480
Hanford-Corcoran, CA$92,810
All Other Social Workers
Santa Rosa, CA$88,680
New Haven, CT$86,060
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA$84,950
Lebanon, PA$83,930
Providence-Warwick, RI-MA$83,130

Source: BLS, May 2021

4 Ways to Increase Your Salary as a Social Worker

You can boost your salary as a social worker by increasing your education or scope of practice with a license. Changing your location, practice setting, or specialty may also earn you more money.

1. Earn an Advanced Degree

If you earn an MSW, you’ll open yourself up to higher-paying opportunities working in clinical social work, teaching at the postsecondary level, and supervising other social workers. An MSW allows you to become a licensed graduate social worker (LGSW) and licensed master social worker (LMSW), giving you more responsibility and autonomy in your career.

2. Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

As an LCSW, you can open an independent practice and practice without supervision. Clinical social workers diagnose, assess, and treat clients. This opens new opportunities in healthcare, medical, substance misuse, and mental health social work that usually come with better pay.

3. Change Location or Practice Setting

You can earn more money if you move or change your practice setting. States and metropolitan areas with higher costs of living, such as Washington or Connecticut, pay social workers higher-than-average salaries. Local governments, excluding hospitals and schools, pay social workers a median annual salary of $61,190, according to the BLS. This is about $15,000 higher than the median annual salary for social workers in individual and family services.

4. Choose a High Demand Specialty

BLS projects 11% job growth for healthcare social workers and mental health and substance misuse social workers between 2021-2031, which is faster than average. These fields grow as the population ages and more people seek treatment for mental health and substance use. Healthcare and clinical social workers typically earn higher salaries than other social work specialties.

Frequently Asked Questions about Social Worker Salaries

What are the highest-paying jobs in social work?

Some of the highest-paying jobs in social work include professor of social work, social work supervisor, licensed clinical social worker, and healthcare social worker. Your employer may also pay you more if you have an MSW, doctoral degree, or prior work experience.

Which social worker field pays the most?

Clinical and healthcare social workers earn one of the highest annual average salaries. According to Payscale, these social workers earn an average of about $60,000 annually.

How does a social worker’s salary compare to a counselor’s salary?

The median annual pay for social workers is slightly higher than a counselor’s median annual salary. Social workers earn a median salary of $50,390, but counselors earn a median salary of $48,520, according to BLS data.

How Much Money Can You Make With an MSW?

Social workers with a master’s degree in social work make an average salary of $57,000 annually, according to Payscale.