The field of social work encompasses a broad range of functions sharing the common goals of assisting those in need and pursuing social justice. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 700,000 social workers deliver services ranging from private counseling to case management, from assisting children in need to helping the dying and their families manage hospice care and other medical challenges.
While much of social work concerns service with individuals—a form of social work professionals describe as micro social work—the field also includes work with larger communities and interest groups. Among these forms of mezzo and macro social work is community social work. Just as micro social workers assist individuals to address challenges and remediate injustices, community social workers help neighborhoods, organizations, and other groups redress all forms of inequity, whether it be a lack of sufficient services, a business polluting the environment, or unequal treatment by law enforcement.
If you’re the sort of person who wants to roll up their sleeves and take on the big boys to effect big societal challenges, a career as a community social worker could be for you. Of course, if you’re considering a career in this field, you might naturally wonder how much do community social workers make? This article addresses that question. It also discusses:
Community social workers—their job titles sometimes describe them as community organizers, community coordinators, or community advocates—work with community groups to improve local conditions. They use their expertise to “counterbalance wealthy and powerful groups” in the pursuit of social justice, according to the National Association of Social Workers
While anyone in the community (or from outside it, for that matter) could lead and advocate for community groups, community social workers can be more effective because they bring a battery of skills and techniques accumulated through training and years of experience. They are experts in negotiation, persuasion, and navigating government and organizational bureaucracies. Their skill sets enable them to:
Community social workers educate the community on issues, recruit volunteers, coordinate public communication, organize events and rallies, and provide expertise on the government, law, and relevant regulations. In an unbalanced fight, community social workers help tip the scales back toward disenfranchised and underrepresented actors.
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. ( )
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. ( )
- 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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Community social workers spend a lot of time interacting with the community in venues that include agency offices, churches, schools, prisons, healthcare clinics, mental health facilities, senior centers, military bases, workplaces, local government offices, and homes. Those employed by organizations or foundations may work occasionally from an office, but since so much of their work involves engaging with the community, even these social workers spend most of their time on the streets and in the home environments of their clients.
Community social work offers numerous rewards but also several potential drawbacks. Some significant pros and cons are listed below.
Community social worker income varies by location, employer, state, professional experience, level of education, licensure and certifications. Annual salaries span from the $30,000s all the way up to six figures. Job titles range from caseworker to licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), from community organizer to policy advocate to project manager.
According to Salary.com, a community social worker with a BSW earns a median salary of $62,300. The top 10 percent of earners make over $76,000, while the bottom 10 percent earn less than $50,000.
A community social worker with an MSW earns, on average, a little over $69,000 per year, according to Salary.com. Those in the top 10 percent earn nearly $83,000, while those in the bottom 10 percent make less than $56,000.
Based on Salary.com data, an MSW delivers an income approximately 10 percent higher than that earned by community social workers with a BSW only. Fewer than 10 percent of MSWs pursue careers in community organizing and advocacy; the vast majority (over 80 percent) seek employment in direct or clinical practice, according to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) 2018 report From Social Work Education to Social Work Practice.
In 2018, the National Association of Social Workers asked new social workers to identify fields in which social work-related jobs were more available than others. The same survey asked respondents to identify jobs that were less available than others.
More social workers reflected positively on the availability of community and residential social work than reflected negatively, by a 6 percent to 4 percent margin. In contrast, only 4 percent characterized government and nonprofit jobs as “more available,” compared to 15 percent who described them as “less available.”
Community social workers come from all different educational backgrounds. According to the NASW 2017 report Profile of the Social Work Workforce, the civic, social, advocacy organizations, and grant-making and giving services social work workforce includes those with non-social work bachelor’s degrees, BSWs, and MSWs. Unlike social workers who engage in one-on-one counseling, community social workers do not need licensure or certification to practice.
Advanced education, coupled with professional experience, can qualify community social workers for higher-responsibility, more-impactful roles at nonprofits and other service and advocacy organizations. A Master of Social Work is a valuable credential qualifying social workers for a broad range of services, including private practice. If you’re looking to add versatility to your professional arsenal, an MSW can help. Fortunately, many MSW programs are available online on a part-time basis, making them easier for working professionals to complete without forgoing work.
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