Highest-Paying Social Work Jobs

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By Juliann Scholl

Reviewed by Melissa Russiano, LCSW, LISW

Published on August 25, 2021

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Content Summary

People with financial difficulties, mental health problems, addiction, and other challenges rely on social workers to get the assistance they need to improve their lives. Social work professionals help individuals and families cope with life changes and overcome difficulties. Clinical social workers can serve clients who suffer from emotional, mental, and behavioral problems.

The job outlook for many social work jobs looks promising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 13% job growth for between 2019 and 2029, which is much higher than average. Employment prospects appear encouraging, especially for clinical social workers, partly due to increases in healthcare spending and treatments.

How Much Do Social Workers Make?

The BLS reports that social workers made a median annual salary of $51,760 in 2020. The top 10% of earners in the field made more than $85,820 that year.

Social worker salary tends to vary by industry. For example, professionals in healthcare and clinical settings earned a median annual salary of $57,630 in 2020.

Geographic location can also influence earning potential. For instance, child, family, and school social workers in the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Connecticut, and other eastern U.S. states make some of the highest wages in their occupational group.

What Social Work Field Pays the Most?

Child and Family Social Work

These social workers specialize in helping children and families who need housing, childcare, or financial support during difficult times. These professionals also help with adoption and foster care arrangements. They often assist children who experience abuse, neglect, and other dangerous circumstances in addition to intervening in domestic violence situations.


Healthcare social workers assist patients and their families with obtaining resources and creating robust social support systems. They also help patients cope with physical, psychological, and emotional suffering and help them navigate the healthcare system.

Mental Health and Addiction

Social workers who specialize in substance use and mental health provide services for clients who struggle with addiction and other mental health challenges. They also help people gain access to support, resources, and recovery programs.

School Social Work

Social workers in educational settings collaborate with teachers, administrators, and parents to improve students' learning conditions. They help students overcome daily challenges, enhance their social skills, and optimize their academic performance.

How Does Education Affect a Social Worker's Salary?

Most social workers hold at least a bachelor's degree, which qualifies them to work as addiction and mental health counselors, social services case managers, or social or community service managers. Some of these occupations require macro- and mezzo-level social work, which involves collaborating with organizers and policymakers to provide support and services to several groups and individuals.

Social workers who want to increase their earning potential can pursue a master's in social work (MSW). An MSW prepares graduates for micro-level work in lucrative careers like clinical social work, healthcare, and administration.

Most professionals need a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) or clinical social worker (CSW) credential to work in clinical settings. Master's programs typically offer courses covering social work and education, mental health, and clinical social work.

Students pursuing a doctorate in social work can earn a Ph.D. or doctor of social work degree (DSW). Many graduates from doctoral programs seek work in higher education as instructors or researchers. A doctorate can prepare graduates to perform macro-level social work, which involves investigating and solving systematic problems like drug addiction and child neglect.

What Are the Highest-Paying Social Work Jobs?

All data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Highest-Paying Social Work Jobs

true Are social workers in high demand?

Although employment differs across occupations, the BLS projects that jobs for all social workers will grow by 13% between 2019 and 2029, a faster rate than the average projected growth across all occupations (4%). The job outlook appears especially promising for professionals in clinical practice due to increased spending and treatment in the healthcare sector.

true Is social work a good career?

People with the desire to improve others' lives might find social work a suitable career. Social workers provide valuable services to people who otherwise cannot access necessary resources to meet their basic needs.

true Is it worth getting a MSW?

An MSW allows graduates to work in many different sectors and clinical roles. They can also qualify for managerial positions, increasing their earning potential.

true Do you need a college degree to be a social worker?

Social workers typically need at least a bachelor's degree. However, professionals with a master's degree or higher tend to hold the highest-paying social work jobs. Prospective clinical social workers must earn a master's degree and a state-issued license.

true How long does it take to train to be a social worker?

It depends on the position. For example, LCSWs typically need a master's degree, which requires about two years in addition to a four-year degree.

Reviewed by:

Melissa Russiano is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice that has organically developed into a specialty helping working professionals. Russiano has a proven track record helping professionals avoid burnout in a unique way that holds clinicians accountable through laughter, tears, blunt (yet very supportive) feedback and quirky analogies that are grounded in solid theoretical research. Russiano practices solely in a virtual setting in the states of California, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. In addition, Russiano is a professor at Simmons University online, imparting her experiences and knowledge in the field to graduate social work students.

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