Social workers are motivated by a desire to help others and most of them get a chance to do so every day. They may work with people challenged with physical, emotional, or financial problems in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities or community settings. While a career in social work can be very fulfilling, the demanding paperwork combined with the tragic situations in which the social work is immersed, can easily lead to burnout.
Nature of the Work
Social workers may be involved in counseling related to employment, mental health or physical disabilities. While they usually specialize in a specific area, ultimately they must be able to refer their client to many resources. For example, a homeless teenager using illegal substances needs more than help writing a resume. Without food, shelter and transportation, the teen cannot succeed. In general, the social worker tries to help the client identify the obstacles to self-sufficiency and develop a plan to overcome those obstacles.
Not only does the social worker personally desire for the client to succeed, the employer often demands that certain objectives be met. Yet he or she has little influence over the choices of the client, the availability or affordability of shelter and the number of jobs in the community. Also, the teen has to stop using drugs before they can obtain gainful employment and that can be a complex process. If the client is arrested, for example, the social worker is not only saddened, but also will be held responsible for not helping the youth get a job.
Education versus Salary
Many positions require social workers to have a license. This usually requires a master's degree and passing an exam. According to the website Indeed, salaries for social workers are 15 percent lower than average salaries for all job postings nationwide, as of 2010. Salaries obviously vary greatly depending on level of education, location and place of employment. The average salary of an licensed social worker is $48,000, of a client support worker $18,000 and of a clinical social worker $68,000, as of 2010.
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook in 2010, job prospects for social workers varies, depending on their specialty. Job prospects are generally expected to be favorable, especially for those working with aging populations in rural areas. In the field of public health, job growth is projected at 22 percent; much higher than average. The demand for substance abuse counselors will also grow strongly, at about 20 percent. Child, family and school social workers can expect fewer openings as these positions are dependent on government financing decisions. Positions in cities for employees without master's degrees will be intense, but for those with specialties in substance abuse and gerontology, chances of obtaining employment are good.
Those considering a career in social work should be aware that they can make a higher salary in some other field with a master’s degree. Yet most social workers do not go into this career for strictly monetary rewards. When a client’s life turns around and they become a positive, contributing member of society, it can overcome any frustrations inherent in working with troubled people.
2016 Salary Information for Social Workers
Social workers earned a median annual salary of $47,460 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, social workers earned a 25th percentile salary of $36,790, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $60,790, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 682,000 people were employed in the U.S. as social workers.