Highest Paying Social Work Jobs

Social workers typically choose their career field for reasons other than money. Nevertheless, many positions in the field can pay surprisingly lucrative salaries, both for young professionals and those who enter the field later in their careers.

A social worker’s income generally depends on five criteria:

  1. The degree they earn
  2. Their subfield within social work
  3. Their state of employment
  4. The industry that employs them
  5. Longevity in the field

As of 2018, the median annual salary for social workers stands at $49,470, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, this number varies according to education level, location, and subfield.

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Highest Paying States for Social Workers

Child and School Social Workers

The highest paying states for child and school social workers include Washington, D.C., Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and California. Points to note:

  • Many social workers employed in Washington D.C. work for federal agencies. This helps to boost their salaries and adds federal insurance and retirement options to their compensation packages.
  • New Jersey social workers benefit from their proximity to New York City.
  • California’s high population density coupled with its diverse languages creates a need for social workers with unique skills.

Top Paying States – Child & School Social Workers

StateAverage WageNumber of Social Workers
Connecticut$67,780 5,530
New Jersey$66,610 5,470
Washington, D.C.$64,800 2,100
Rhode Island$61,530 1,520
California$59,500 32,050
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Healthcare Social Workers

Healthcare social workers earn the strongest salaries in Nevada, California, Connecticut, Washington, D.C. and Oregon.Points to ote:

  • Healthcare social workers in Nevada earn an unusually high annual salary of $82,820. A growing urban population is a major contributing factor to its high wage, as is the state’s diversification of its economy and heavy investment in healthcare and research.
  • Additionally, those who are considering healthcare social work careers should look at states like Florida, Texas, and New Mexico. These states support rapidly growing senior adult populations. While salaries may be lower, opportunities for healthcare social worker jobs may be more plentiful.

Top Paying States – Healthcare Social Workers

StateAverage WageNumber of Social Workers
Nevada$82,820 720
California$76,450 18,600
Connecticut$72,640 2,110
District of Columbia$72,090 450
Oregon$72,830 1,600
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Social workers employed in mental health and careers helping those with substance use disorders enjoy the highest salaries in New Jersey with an average annual wage of $79,130. California, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., and Oregon also pay lucrative wages for social workers who specialize in these fields.

  • While these states pay the highest salaries, one other state is notable in its opportunities for mental health and substance abuse careers: Hawaii. Not only is Hawaii home to U.S. military installations that employ mental health counselors, the state is currently facing a major shortage of mental health workers.

Top Paying States – Mental Health & Substance Abuse Social Workers

StateAverage WageNumber of Social Workers
New Jersey$79,130 1,710
District of Columbia$69,690 470
Hawaii$67,930 360
Connecticut$63,290 1,850
New York$62,130 11,470
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Highest Paid Social Workers

The top paying social work jobs lie primarily in the healthcare field and in federal agencies.

Job TitleMedian SalaryCareer Outlook
Child, Family, and School Social Workers$48,430 14%
Healthcare Social Workers$58,470 20%
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers$49,630 19%
All Other Social Workers$60,900 8%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Healthcare Social Workers

The BLS has reported that healthcare social workers earn an average annual salary of $49,470. Those in the top 90% enjoy an average annual wage of $81,400.

Healthcare social work is not only a well-paid profession, but it’s also a growing one. Like the populations of other developed nations, Americans are rapidly aging. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans who are 65 and older will outnumber those younger than 18 by the year 2035. The future of work, therefore, lies in professions that assist an older population such as healthcare and technology. Social workers who serve older adults tend to have clients on the younger end of the spectrum — adults 55 to 74 —rather than adults 75 and older.

Federal Social Work Jobs

Social workers employed by the federal government can earn an average annual wage of $77,610, putting them among the highest paid professionals in the industry. Most federal social workers (26,000) work for the Social Security Administration, according to research from the National Association of Social Workers. Other major employers include the Veterans Administration, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and Health and Human Services. Many federal social workers live in the Washington, D.C. area, which is known for its higher wages for social work positions.

While social work may not have a reputation for being lucrative, the numbers can tell a different story. This is particularly true for individuals with advanced degrees, as well as those who live in certain areas or specialize in a particular field. Ultimately, like other professions, a well-paid social work job relies on both your professional surroundings and your level of expertise.

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