Social Work

MSW Employment Trends: Stats Say Social Work Jobs Will Grow By Almost 20%

MSW Employment Trends: Stats Say Social Work Jobs Will Grow By Almost 20%
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Nedda Gilbert profile
Nedda Gilbert July 16, 2018

According to recent data from the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, social work is one of the fastest growing and most in-demand fields in the US. In fact, the Bureau reports that social work employment is expected to grow by almost 20% through 2020. That’s faster than the average rate of growth for all occupations, which is a (comparatively) meager 6%.

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Here are some other promising Social Work employment stats:

  • In 2012, U. S. News and World Report ranked social work #18 out of the top 25 jobs to pursue.

  • In 2018, U. S. News and World Report released it’s ranking of top social services jobs, and social work positions scored in four of the the top 10 spots (and #11 too). You can see a few of these rankings below. Note that many of the jobs included in this list are dominated by Masters of Social Work (MSW) degree holders.

Number #4: Marriage and Family Therapist

Number #5: Clinical Social Worker

Number #6: Child and Family Social Worker

Number #10: Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorders Counselor

Number # 11: School Counselor

The Demand for Social Workers

What’s driving the need for MSWs? Some actually point to the greying of the United States. Older individuals will disproportionately dominate our population in the coming years, and the need for healthcare and social services will rise in response. In essence, this theory is that an aging baby boom cohort has created increased demand for social workers. But in reality, MSWs have important jobs to do in almost every aspect of our society — not just when it comes to serving senior citizens. Social workers sit at the crossroads of society, and support a wide variety of individuals through life-changing events, struggles, and transitions.

MSWs Play a Vital Role in Almost Every Aspect of Life

You’ll find social workers providing bereavement and grief support, guiding families through crisis or divorce, helping wounded warriors with re-entry to civilian life, assisting adolescents with academic and domestic issues, supplying hospice care to the sick and dying, securing benefits for the homeless, assisting the poor and disabled, protecting children, discharging hospital patients, working with the elderly, and more. You may also find social workers leading policy change at the local and state levels, and fulfilling corporate positions in the fields of philanthropy, social innovation, and employee assistance.

And there’s more. An MSW who becomes licensed as a clinical social worker (LCSW) and develops an expertise in the world of counseling might open a private practice and provide therapy to individuals, couples, and families. Private practice is typically associated with high earnings, but is very dependent on the services offered in the LCSW’s particular area of counseling.

Whatever the problem, crisis, or advocacy need, trained social workers will rise to the challenge and make the biggest of differences: the kind that improves lives.

Now that you’re inspired by the role of these caring professionals in the US, learn more about social work salaries by state.


“I Want to Be A Social Worker!”

University and Program Name Learn More

The Top 20: Median Annual Wages of Social Workers by State (According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

At present, MSW earnings are not fully on par with those of many other master’s-level degree holders. However, as mentioned previously, the profession is expected to experience significant growth over the next decade. With demand increasing, it’s likely compensation for the expertise and skills of MSWs will increase too.

Here are median annual wages of social workers by state:

Alabama – $67, 150

California – $66, 130

District of Columbia – $73, 960

Florida – $71,020

Hawaii – $74, 960

Idaho – $71,110

Illinois – $68, 980

Maryland – $66, 370

Massachusetts – $75,690

Michigan – $65,180

Nevada – $73,510

New Hampshire – $65,170

New Jersey – $69,330

New York – $62,810

Rhode Island – $75,680

South Dakota – $70,070

Texas – $73, 360

Vermont – $65, 190

Virginia – $69, 120

West Virginia – 467, 160

Spotlight on Jobs with Higher than Average Median Salaries

Some jobs in the social work profession are known to pay more than others, but compensation also depends on many factors including geographic location, whether an employer is privately or publicly funded, and the nature of the work performed. These days, social workers are branching out in entirely new areas, and innovating as they go along. There is even an MSW currently employed by Google, whose whole role is to empower women in tech. These are exciting times for MSWs, and uncharted territories.

As you consider your options, and where your MSW degree might take you, it may be helpful to learn about some practice areas that tend to pay more than others.

Veterans and Military Social Workers

The Bureau of Veteran Affairs (VA) is the single largest employer of MSWs in the United States. Indeed, job opportunities for MSWs in this practice area are numerous. Social workers may work in a variety of settings, including VA Hospitals and community agencies dedicated to helping returning veterans re-enter civilian life. Some of the unique conditions veterans might struggle with are depression, substance abuse, permanent injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Social workers employed by the VA also play a primary role in navigating benefits for returning and retired military, and in assisting military families with service-related issues.

As an added incentive, MSWs for the Bureau of Veteran Affairs enjoy federal employee benefits, including solid insurance and retirement plans and minimum levels of pay.

Substance Abuse Counselors and Social Workers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Substance Abuse Counselors will experience even greater job-growth over the next two years than the field of social work as a whole. In fact, the increase in employment for Substance Abuse Counselors is expected to be as high as 22%. This is one of the highest projected growth rates of any occupation. Fortunately, MSWs most frequently fulfill this role.

Driving this growth is a change in our healthcare laws. The Affordable Care Act now requires insurers to cover mental health issues in equal measure to the medical coverage they provide. This means that individuals can now seek help for substance abuse, knowing that all – or at least some portion – of their treatment will be covered under their health care policies.

Another factor impacting growth projections in this practice area is the nation’s opiate and heroin crisis.

Social work employment in this field can range from a counseling position in a local community center, in-house facility, long-term rehab center, short-stay program, or outpatient program, or a role in a private counseling practice. MSW practitioners in this field may also provide support to inner city agencies where clients are struggling with poverty or unemployment, and require other social services in addition to substance abuse help.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Directors and Counselors

In the mid 1980’s, educators and professionals in the field of social work pioneered a practice area called Social Work in the Workplace. It was fueled by a change in the Federal Disability Act of 1973, which started classifying those affected by substance abuse as a protected group with bonafide disabilities. Employers were significantly impacted by this change in legislation. Attitudes towards substance abuse shifted from seeing it as a problematic behavior, to recognizing it as an illness that should be cloaked with protections. Companies had to quickly change their ways, and had to make some effort to accommodate employees suspected of substance abuse or addiction before simply terminating them.

The social work profession introduced a program called an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), to be operated in concert with the human resources branch of an organization. These programs offered employees free sessions with professional social work counselors around any problem – including substance abuse – that might be impacting their job performance. EAPs are now present in more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies, and the help they provide employees is no longer centered on substance abuse. Helping employees who are distracted or challenged by personal problems has become good business, and smart.

MSWs in this practice area play a variety roles in running these programs, including providing direct counseling. EAP MSWs are among the highest paid in the profession. The median annual EAP Counselor salary is $69,822.

Palliative and Hospice Social Workers

Because older Americans will soon make-up a disproportionate segment of our population, the need for social workers in this practice area is great. MSWs in this line of work help clients and their loved ones deal with chronic, serious, or terminal illness.

End of life work can seem daunting. However ,this critical and necessary work is a strong practice area for MSWs, and a well-paid one.

The Rewards of Social Work

Although one can earn a good living as a MSW, most individuals do not pursue this degree for riches. But still, the personal and professional rewards of social work are high.

As you pursue your MSW, you will need to balance your desire to help with the realities of social work compensation. That said, times are changing. MSWs are carving out new areas for social work innovation, and, with those new areas, new opportunities for employment. With any luck, the MSW degree will provide you with both personal and financial rewards.

Questions or feedback? Email

About the Author

Ms. Nedda Gilbert is a seasoned clinical social worker, author, and educational consultant with 25 years of experience helping college-bound and graduate students find their ideal schools. She is a prolific author, including The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and Essays that Made a Difference. Ms. Gilbert has been a guest writer for Forbes and a sought-after keynote speaker on college admissions. Previously, she played a crucial role at the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company and was Chairman of the Board of Graduate Philadelphia. Ms. Gilbert holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University and is a certified interdisciplinary collaborative family law professional in New Jersey.

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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Categorized as: Social WorkSocial Work & Counseling & Psychology