Social Work

How Much Does a Social Work Case Worker Earn?

How Much Does a Social Work Case Worker Earn?
Case workers provide numerous services that affect the livelihood and well-being of others. How well are they compensated for this essential work? The answer: pay varies by education level, job title, years of experience, licenses and certifications, and geographic location. Image from Unsplash
Courtney Eiland profile
Courtney Eiland July 8, 2022

Social work case worker salaries vary by function, education level, certifications, level of experience, and location. An MSW can boost your salary and position you for career advancement.

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Social work case managers occupy the frontlines, serving as counselors, social service providers, and advocates for individuals and communities in need. Their work addresses a broad range of social challenges in such areas as mental health, job loss, homelessness, healthcare, child care, grief for loved ones lost, and equal access to resources. They work in many settings, including schools, prisons, hospitals, emergency shelters, and homeless shelters. In addition, some social workers make home visits to check on child welfare, domestic violence cases, substance abuse, and other isolated incidents.

In short, case workers provide numerous services that affect the livelihood and well-being of others. How well are they compensated for this essential work? The answer: pay varies by education level, job title, years of experience, licenses and certifications, and geographic location.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for social workers looks promising, with a 12 percent projected job growth through the decade. Average annual income clocked in at $50,390 in May 2021, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $36,520 and the highest 10 percent earning more than $82,840.

What annual salary can you expect when you pursue a career in social work case management? This article highlights data on pay levels and job availability across states and regions.

How much do social work case managers earn?

Social work case manager average annual salaries depend on many factors. Entry-level positions entail fewer responsibilities, require fewer credentials, and pay less. More lucrative roles, such as clinical social workers or public policy leaders, require a Master of Social Work (MSW).

Education level isn’t the only factor in determining pay. Average social worker case manager salaries vary based on location. Pay is typically higher in areas where the cost of living is elevated, such as San Francisco and New York City. According to Indeed, cities with the highest paying social worker salaries include:

  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Washington, DC
  • Houston, TX
  • Detroit, MI
  • New York, NY
  • Cleveland, OH
  • Bronx, NY
  • Chicago, IL

Case work offers many different roles, whether you’re interested in hands-on positions with less earning potential or higher-paying planning and strategy. Below, we’ve outlined some of the most common and fastest-growing roles in the social work case manager profession, followed by more senior-level, strategic positions in the field.

Child, family, and school social worker

Careers within this category include school social workers, Child Protective Services (CPS) social workers, adoption or foster care social workers, and additional roles that support family well-being and children’s social and emotional functioning. Job growth is faster than average at 13 percent, with 36,700 projected job openings through 2030. The median income for this role is $49,150; jobs may only require a bachelor’s degree from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and a state license or credential.

Substance abuse counselor

On average, substance abuse counselors earn $56,170 annually, with averages ranging from $49,520 and $62,980 depending on education, certification, years of experience, and location. In Los Angeles, California, the median salary for a substance abuse counselor is $63,520; in Raleigh, North Carolina, the average is $54,350. Worth noting: according to Best Places, housing in Los Angeles is nearly three times as expensive as in Raleigh.

Mental health counselor

The average base salary for mental health counselors largely varies by location. For instance, the national average is $48,520, with a range from $30,870 to $77,980. However, for the same role in the District of Columbia, the average is $60,600, ranging from $31,370 to $96,870. In addition to location, a master’s degree, work experience, and certifications can push salary ranges higher.

Rehabilitation counselor

Rehabilitation counselors support individual clients or groups recovering from mental health issues, substance abuse, or other behavioral health concerns. Counselors develop a treatment or therapeutic plan, whether inpatient or outpatient.

Rehabilitation counselors, on average, earn an annual base salary of $40,456. Estimated additional pay such as cash bonus and commission could increase the total compensation by $29,322 per year. The role typically requires an MSW and a license or certification, leading to even higher earning potential in some states.

Healthcare social worker

The median annual income for healthcare social workers, one of the fastest-growing occupations under the social work myriad of roles, is $60,840. They numbered just under 185,000 in 2020, roughly 25 percent of the nation’s 716,000 social workers. The BLS projects more than 20,000 new openings in this field between 2020 and 2030.

Clinical social worker

Clinical social workers counsel clients in one-on-one settings, a practice that requires an MSW, licensing, and in some circumstances certifications. A licensed clinical social worker averages $74,300 annually, ranging from $69,300 at the 25th percentile to $82,600 at the 75th percentile. Top earners can draw six-figure salaries.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP) manager

Some of the highest salaries within the social work profession come from supervisory or strategic planning roles. EAP managers typically have 15+ years of experience and a master’s degree, contributing to a higher salary range. The role of an EAP manager can bring in an average salary of $114,200, with the high-end taking in close to $145,000.

In addition to the manager role, other positions within EAP, such as counselors ($73,615 average salary) and senior coordinators ($83,177 average salary), have more direct interactions providing guidance and resources to employees dealing with mental health, substance abuse, or other emotional crises. An MSW or clinical social work experience is strongly recommended within this specialization, no matter the job title.

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There are a couple of significant practical considerations:

- A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in social work
- A license to practice or required social work certification

Credentials vary among careers, states, and territories. Licenses include:

- Certified Social Worker (CSW)
- Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA)
- Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)
- Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
- Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)

Most of these licenses require a Master’s or Doctorate, along with additional coursework or clinical internships. (source)

A survey of 2017 social work graduates by the National Social Work Workforce Study found that social workers with Master’s degrees and Doctorates made substantially more than those with no advanced degree. (source)

- People with MSW degrees made $13,000-plus more than those with only BSW degrees
- MSWs make more in large cities or urban clusters
- People with doctorates earned $20,000 to $25,000 more than people with only MSW degrees

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What does a social work case manager do?

Social work case managers handle many responsibilities impacting others’ well-being. Varied disciplines fall under this profession, including some of the career options discussed earlier. Primary principles applicable to all roles include:

Social work case managers must abide by the NASW Code of Ethics—whether in a group or individual setting or at the policy and planning level—to ensure the right people access the right resources at the right time. These standards exist due to their nature of work, where social workers handle highly confidential information and data.

Case manager duties

According to the Case Management Society of America, case management is a “collaborative process of assessment, planning, facilitation, care coordination, evaluation and advocacy for options and services” to individuals and families. Through “communication and available resources,” case managers “promote patient safety, quality of care, and cost-effective outcomes.”

Case manager skills

The case management profession is ever-changing, which is why in addition to the NASW’s Standards for Social Work Case Management and Code of Ethics, the NASW also identifies core competencies that social work case managers must employ. These competencies ensure case managers stay current with the latest research and treatment related to the field.

The field of social work case management combines hard skills and soft skills. Soft skills beneficial for social work case managers include active listening, cultural competence, empathy, time management, and leadership. While soft skills come innately, hard skills come from years of experience in the field and education.

Do case managers need an MSW?

Legal requirements to perform case work vary by state. Furthermore, requirements vary by case worker role. One requirement remains constant across the nation: you must hold a Master of Social Work to practice clinical social work.

Case managers who seek senior-level positions such as administrator, clinical social worker, researcher, or advocate (which also come with higher salaries) may need an MSW with a specialization or certification in their selected area of expertise. A Bachelor of Social Work is never required to earn an MSW, but it can accelerate the process by qualifying the holder for an advanced standing program.

Online MSW programs available at the Tulane University School of Social Work include a traditional program for those without a BSW that can take up to 24 months to complete full-time or up to 32 months part-time. If you already have your BSW, Tulane offers an accelerated full-time 12-month MSW program. In addition, Virginia Commonwealth University offers an accelerated degree through a one-year advanced standing program.

The job outlook for social work case management continues to grow. Whether you’re just starting your job search or seeking to take your career to the next level, an MSW can help increase both your earning potential and impact on the clients and communities served.

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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