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Social workers are professionals who work to improve the well-being of individuals and communities. They provide services, like counseling and advocacy, to help people overcome challenges and improve their lives. In this guide, explore social worker salaries, including factors that can influence pay, and average salaries across different regions and areas of practice.

Whether you’re a new social worker checking out career options or an experienced professional looking to advance your earning potential, this social work salary guide will provide valuable insights into social worker salary trends and expectations.

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How Much Do Social Workers Make?

Social workers earn a median annual salary of $50,390, with earnings ranging from $36,520 to $82,840 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This broad range in earnings is reflected in the different levels of education and licensure available in the field of social work.

For instance, licensed social workers require more education and training, but enjoy higher salary earning potential.

  • Median Annual Social Worker Salary: $50,390
  • Median Hourly Social Worker Salary: $24.23

If you hold a bachelor’s degree, you can make an average annual salary of $55,000, according to Payscale as of March 2023. Earning a master’s degree can boost your income. Social workers who hold a master’s degree make an average of $59,000 a year. Continued education offers further pay increases. With a doctoral degree, you can make an average salary of $76,000.

You can work as a social worker without a license. However, a licensed clinical social worker pulls an even higher salary. Licensed clinical social workers make an average of $62,600 a year.

Social Worker Salary by Area of Practice

Social workers have considerable career mobility, more than you might think. You can earn a specialty in social work to help people in specific populations. Social workers have jobs in advocacy and community organizing, healthcare, justice and corrections, mental health and substance misuse, policy and planning, and school social work.

Earning a specialty can also boost your income. For example, social workers earn a median annual salary of $50,390, or $24.23 an hour, according to the BLS. Meanwhile, healthcare social workers earn an average annual wage of $62,310, or $29.96 an hour. And public policy analysis can earn an average salary of $64,810 a year per March 2023 Payscale data.

As the table below shows, there are more specialized social work occupations — and they offer even better pay than entry-level social work careers.

Average Social Worker Salary, by Area of Practice (2023)
OccupationAnnual SalaryHourly Salary
Healthcare Social Workers$62,310$29.96
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers$57,800$27.79
Child, Family, and School Social Workers$54,880$26.39
Social Workers, All Other$63,010$30.29

Source: BLS and Payscale

Social Worker Salary by Occupation

Across the country, social workers change the lives of millions of people. Who they serve and their daily responsibilities depend on their specialty and industry.

Forensic Court Social Workers

Average Annual Salary: $48,000 according to Payscale (March 2023)

Forensic court social workers serve as the point-of-contact with criminal justice system offenders to record their life history, including drug addictions, mental illness, or trauma. This information can be used to ask for a lighter sentence.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Average Annual Salary: $62,600 according to Payscale (March 2023)

LCSWs conduct diagnostic assessments and offer counseling and support services to their clients, which can include children, adolescents, or adults. After individual and group counseling sessions, LCSWs may make internal and external referrals. This is all done confidentially, in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and state and federal regulations.

Mental Health and Substance Use Social Workers

Average Annual Salary: $57,800 according to BLS (May 2021)

People with substance use disorders and mental illnesses rely on social workers to provide counseling and rehabilitation. These social workers help people get resources such as social security benefits and housing. They may provide in-home support or in a treatment center.

Military Social Workers

Average Annual Salary: $72,370 according to Payscale (March 2023)

Military social workers offer support to veterans and active service members in all branches of the armed forces. They may counsel service members suffering from trauma or offer advocacy for retired military personnel.

School Social Worker

Average Annual Salary: $51,061 according to Payscale (March 2023)

School social workers provide diagnostic assessments, referrals, and counseling to students and families. This job also requires meeting with faculty and staff to ensure that students make academic and behavioral progression.

Social Worker Salary by Education Level

Your education level can often determine how much you make in social work. This is especially true because you need a master’s in social work degree to get licensed.

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

You do not need an advanced degree to become a social worker. With a bachelor’s in social work, you can become a health education social worker, research assistant, or outreach worker. Social workers who hold a bachelor’s in social work degree make an average annual salary of $55,000, according to Payscale in March 2023.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

You need at least a master’s in social work degree to get licensed. This advanced degree opens the doors to careers as mental health and substance use social workers, licensed clinical social workers, and forensic social workers. You can make an average annual salary of $59,000 after earning a master’s in social work degree as per Payscale in March 2023.

Doctorate or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work

A doctorate or Ph.D. in social work prepares you for careers as college professors, mental health clinicians, or field researchers. You can make an annual salary of $76,000 a year when you earn a doctorate in social work, according to Payscale as of March 2023.

Social Worker Salary by State

One of the biggest factors that determines social work salary is where you live. Salaries are higher in certain states because of numerous factors, including a higher cost of living or more demand for social workers.

Child, family, and school social work is the most common practice area for social workers. Among states with the highest average salaries for child, family, and school social workers are New Jersey, Washington D.C., Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island.

However, when salaries are averaged across all practice areas, the top-paying states are Hawaii, Rhode Island, New Jersey, California, and Connecticut. In Hawaii, the average salary for social workers is $72,940, followed by Rhode Island at $72,310, and New Jersey at $71,070. California and Connecticut round out the top five with average salaries of $70,060 and $70,040, respectively.

Median Annual Social Worker Salaries, by State and Area of Practice (2023)
StateChild, Family, and School Social WorkersHealthcare Social WorkersMental Health and Substance Abuse Social WorkersSocial Workers, All Other
New Hampshire$48,690$63,870$61,480$80,540
New Jersey$76,490$63,850$80,540$63,410
New Mexico$40,680$60,040$54,000$57,370
New York$62,390$58,240$75,230$76,410
North Carolina$48,970$60,920$49,590$67,160
North Dakota$59,810$59,800$52,620$73,260
Rhode Island$61,660$78,870$76,410N/A
South Carolina$43,740$60,040$41,500$77,480
South Dakota$43,800$47,430$41,270$78,640
Washington D.C.$76,240$78,020$61,660$60,020
West Virginia$37,200$49,520$38,430$73,260

Source: BLS

Highest-Paying Cities for Social Workers

Cities also compensate social workers differently. Vallejo and Fairfield in California compensate healthcare, mental health and substance use, and child, family, and school social workers $98,630 — the most out of all metropolitan areas.

The following are the top five highest-paying cities for social workers as per the BLS.

  1. Springfield, MA-CT: $87,870
  2. Vallejo — Fairfield, CA: $86,720
  3. Boston — Cambridge — Nashua, MA-NH: $85,540
  4. Urban Honolulu, HI: $85,360
  5. Hinesville, GA: $85,000

Frequently Asked Questions About Social Worker Salaries

What is the highest-paying field for social workers?

Healthcare social workers earn some of the highest salaries, with an average annual salary of $62,310, as the BLS reports. The category “social workers, all other” also makes the most with an annual average wage of $63,010. The BLS defines this category as social workers in the field of criminal justice, forensics, and adult protective service social workers, among other possible titles.

Are social workers in demand?

Yes. Social workers are in demand. From 2021-2031, the BLS expects employment for all social workers to increase by 9%. Some social work specialities have a higher demand than others. For instance, the BLS projects jobs for healthcare and mental health substance abuse social workers to grow by 11% from 2021-2031.

What is the starting salary for a social worker?

The starting salary for a social worker varies depending on the employer, location, and level of education. The lowest-earning social workers report an annual salary of less than $36,520, below the BLS median annual wage of $50,390. Salary increases with experience, education, and licensure.

The BLS notes that the top 10% of social workers earn more than $82,840 a year. What you earn also depends on the industry. The median annual wage for social workers at local government agencies is $61,190.

How can social workers make more money?

Social workers do not have a reputation for having a high-earning occupation, but you can increase your earning potential through various means. Education, experience, and licensure can boost your salary.

You can also specialize in a specific area of social work to switch industries and make even more. Local government positions offer a median annual salary of $61,190 for social workers —about $10,000 more than the median salary for all social workers.