How Much Does a Social Worker Make a Year?

By Ashley Kilroy · February 26, 2024 · 9 minute read

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How Much Does a Social Worker Make a Year?

Social workers make $64,360 a year on average. Higher-end social work positions requiring more experience and education can pay up to $116,500 annually, while the lowest-paying positions in the industry pay $37,500 on average.

Imagine a career where you profoundly impact a person’s life, guiding them through the most significant challenges and triumphs. Social workers embody this transformative role, dedicating themselves to the betterment of individuals, families, and communities. In a world where making a living intersects with the noble pursuit of helping others navigate life’s complexities, social work emerges as a rewarding and impactful vocation.

Here’s how the multifaceted roles, responsibilities, and considerations associated with social workers compare with the average annual pay in the field.

What Are Social Workers?

Social workers are professionals whose mission is to enhance the well-being and quality of life of individuals, families, and communities. A social worker’s education prepares them to address a wide range of social issues and challenges. For example, social workers help those dealing with substance abuse, relational problems, housing issues, domestic violence, and employment challenges.

On a broader scale, these professionals advocate for social justice and equality. Social workers can work in various settings, including schools, hospitals, government agencies, prisons, nonprofit organizations, and private practices.

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Social Worker Job Responsibilities Examples

Here are some key aspects of what social workers do:

1.    Assessment and intervention: Social workers assess the needs and strengths of individuals and communities through interviews, observations, and evaluations. Then, they develop intervention plans to address identified problems and help clients overcome challenges.

2.    Counseling and support: Social workers provide counseling and support to individuals and groups dealing with issues such as mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, grief, and trauma. They offer advice and coping techniques to help clients respond to difficult situations in a positive way.

3.    Advocacy: Social workers advocate for their clients’ rights and interests, ensuring they can access necessary resources and services. Positions in systemic advocacy are available to social workers who want to change policies and structures contributing to social problems.

4.    Case management: Social workers often coordinate and manage client services, connecting them to appropriate assistance and support from various agencies and organizations. For example, a client may need to see a doctor, a therapist, and an employment advocate as part of their plan to move forward.

5.    Child and family services: Social workers play a crucial role in child welfare, working to protect children from abuse and neglect. They may provide family support services, conduct home visits, and collaborate with other professionals to create safe and stable environments for children.

6.    Medical and healthcare social work: Social workers can also assist clients facing medical challenges. They may introduce helpful lifestyle changes, facilitate communication between patients and medical professionals, and address issues related to illness or disability.

7.    School social work: Social workers in schools support students, families, and educators by addressing academic, social, and emotional challenges. They may provide counseling and crisis intervention for students struggling to thrive and learn.

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How Much Do Starting Social Workers Make a Year?

In the United States, entry-level social workers have salaries that range by location, with the bottom 10% making an average salary of $37,500.

However, social workers can boost their salaries in various ways. For instance, climbing the ladder at an agency can land you a director of social work position with a salary between $71,000 and $116,500. This position usually requires higher education and years of experience.

You can also further your education and specialize in a particular area of social work with a master’s degree. With an advanced degree, a licensed social worker can earn $65,000 to $118,500 annually.

Lastly, moving can help increase your pay. For example, the highest-paying positions in Rhode Island offer $84,430 per year, while the average social worker in Florida maxes out their salary at $55,990.

No matter how much you’re earning, it’s a good idea to set and track financial goals. A money tracker app is one tool that can help you monitor your spending and saving.

What Is the Average Salary for a Social Worker?

How much do social workers make in each state? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual wage for a social worker nationwide is $64,360. But here’s a breakdown of the average social worker salary by state:


Annual Salary

Alabama $59,671
Alaska $61,090
Arizona $62,410
Arkansas $53,460
California $69,530
Colorado $55,000
Connecticut $73,390
Delaware $66,600
Florida $55,990
Georgia $67,100
Hawaii $76,280
Idaho $56,150
Illinois $65,630
Indiana $70,840
Iowa $67,710
Kansas $78,610
Kentucky $64,530
Louisiana $62,460
Maine $58,000
Maryland $68,000
Massachusetts $74,220
Michigan $64,200
Minnesota $67,960
Mississippi $62,300
Missouri $52,700
Montana $51,230
Nebraska $63,140
Nevada $71,820
New Hampshire $65,809
New Jersey $67,030
New Mexico $62,410
New York $78,540
North Carolina $63,770
North Dakota $72,280
Ohio $57,680
Oklahoma $80,410
Oregon $59,600
Pennsylvania $73,800
Rhode Island $84,430
South Carolina $75,610
South Dakota $77,230
Tennessee $54,460
Texas $68,500
Utah $58,590
Vermont $64,760
Virginia $73,590
Washington $82,220
West Virginia $70,670
Wisconsin $55,320
Wyoming $59,742

Social Worker Job Considerations for Pay & Benefits

If you’re considering social work as a career, your potential salary can be higher than the average salary in the United States. Specifically, social workers earn $64,360 per year on average, while wage-earners across the country have a salary of $59,428.

Your salary can soar past $100,000 in specific situations, such as in a director position or as a master’s level specialist. As a result, while social work isn’t among the top-earning trades, the career can be a path to a decent quality of life while you work to help others.

Additionally, social workers who work full time typically receive excellent benefits. A typical package includes health insurance, life insurance, paid time off, and professional development opportunities.

Remember, ongoing education is a requirement for keeping and renewing your social work license, so receiving these opportunities through your employer can streamline the process.

Recommended: 25 High-Paying Trade Jobs in Demand

Pros and Cons of Social Worker Salary

Every career has its upsides and downsides. Here’s what to know if you’re going into social work:


•   Higher than average annual salary. The average compensation for social work positions is higher than the overall average salary in the United States, as described above. Combined with a robust benefits package, social work’s competitive pay can help you and your family afford a comfortable quality of life.

•   Job security. Social work is here to stay. Specifically, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates annual growth of 7% in the field for the next decade. This rate is faster than the overall average in the country, signifying increasing demand for employees in this sector.

•   Builds transferable skills. For instance, human resources positions require communication, interpersonal, and conflict management skills. So, if you get into social work and realize you want a different career, you can take your skill set elsewhere.

•   Online education opportunities. While social work does require at least a bachelor’s degree, many programs are available online. This way, you can earn your degree at your own pace without needing to relocate.

•   Student loan forgiveness. Social workers might be able to get their student loans forgiven. Specifically, 10 to 25 years of nonprofit work might qualify you for federal student loan forgiveness. This perk erases whatever student loan you have left, which could be $100,000 or more.


•   Education requirements. For instance, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school to become a social worker. Obtaining this degree will take at least four years and could cost over $100,000 for tuition. Additionally, a master’s degree is usually required to hold the top positions in the field and increase your salary. Doing so adds at least two more years of education plus the associated tuition costs.

•   Must have a license to practice. Licensure is necessary to practice as a social worker. Becoming licensed means working for a few years under supervision and passing an exam. Then, you must complete a certain number of continuing education hours to maintain your license.

•   Demanding work environment. You might face long hours, an overpacked caseload, call hours on holidays and weekends, and potentially dangerous situations. Remember, social work means seeing people at their lowest, and these circumstances can involve substance abuse, violence, and crime. The job rarely offers work-from-home opportunities; instead, it requires a personal presence. Because of the intense needs of your clients and the long hours, you may burn out despite having the best intentions.

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The Takeaway

Social workers are dedicated professionals committed to improving the well-being of individuals, families, and communities. Their multifaceted roles encompass assessments, interventions, counseling, advocacy, and case management. While the financial landscape varies, social workers can enhance their earnings through specialization, higher education, and relocation. With an average annual salary of $64,360 and a field experiencing a 7% growth rate, social work offers competitive compensation and job security.

Despite the challenges, including educational requirements and demanding work environments, the profession remains rewarding, offering the opportunity to improve the lives of others and contribute to societal well-being.

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Can you make $100K a year as a social worker?

You can make $100,000 a year as a social worker in the highest positions in the field. Specifically, the director of social work, licensed master social worker, and clinical social worker roles can all pay a salary of more than $100,000.

Do people like being a social worker?

Social workers enjoy their jobs because of the positive impact they can make on people’s lives while earning a competitive salary. Plus, the field offers ways to grow professionally and expose yourself to different disciplines and opportunities. On the downside, the pay for most positions is less than $100,000 per year. Additionally, the job can be challenging because of the hefty workload and the emotional strain.

Is it hard to get hired as a social worker?

Getting hired as a social worker means getting a four-year degree and passing an exam to obtain a state license to practice. However, if you can earn these qualifications, getting hired as a social worker is easier because the demand for professionals is growing. Plus, demand for social workers is projected to grow by 7% in the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Photo credit: iStock/SDI Productions

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