What can be done to raise social work salaries? Listen to our podcast series and leave your comments


During Social Work Month in March, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is beginning a conversation on how to raise the salaries of social workers.

Despite social workers’ invaluable contributions, their salaries continue to lag behind those of other helping professions such as nurses, police and high school teachers, according to the Bureau of Labor of Statistics.

In March 2019, NASW Social Work Talks podcast will feature social work experts who will talk about the salary issue, including factors that contribute to lower salaries and what can be done to address them. We invite you to listen to these conversations and leave your comments here. A new podcast episode will appear each Tuesday in March.

Thank you for listening and for sharing your views on this important issue!

Episode 28: Negotiating Your Salary

Episode 27: Suze Orman – How Social Workers Can Get Smarter About Money

Episode 26: Increasing Social Work Salaries in NYC

Episode 25: Social Work Salaries with Michael Sinclair, MSW, PhD


  1. I agree that the NASW should step up its game. Why don’t we ever hear from the NASW on the news about social issues, such as condemning conversion therapy? I’m sure statements are are issued for the press but a strong presence in the national media would help improve how social workers are viewed. We hear from the AMA and APA in the media all the time. Why does NASW take a back seat?

    • Good morning John Yeomans. NASW and its chapters are in the news all the time. Please email gwright.nasw@socialworkers.org and I can send you monthly news hits reports. It may be time for us to share those more widely publicly.

      Greg Wright
      NASW Communications Director

  2. I’ve been in the SW field for 9 years if you don’t count 2 years of practicum/intern and work experience in undergrad and grad school (so that would make 11) but lets just say 9. In 9 years it took me 1.5 years to get my LSW, and an additional 4 years after that to get my LCSW. I graduated with 90,000 in school debt from undergrad and grad school. My first job out of grad school as an MSW I made 29,000 a year. Once I got the LSW I got a job where I made 38,000 my first year 42,000 second year, 45,000 third year, and 48,000 my last year. Then I got my LCSW and went into the group practice route where I made 45,000 my first year during that, then 55,000 my last year (this is doing contract hourly paid therapy in a group practice). The only way for me to increase my salary is completely based on me getting and maintaining a higher case load which is a little exhausting to think about. This is the profession I choose so I accept it but it is quite discourarging to go from graduating grad school, to having 90,000 in debt and then only being able to start out making 29,000 with just my masters degree. My husband with a bachelors degree had a starting salary of 45,000 and has since gone up from there over the years. He was able to get up to 60,000 in just 6 years rather than 9 and that’s without any continuing education or licensure. Also since graduation I have thankfully been able to pay off 30,000 of my student debt, so I have 60,000 left that my husband and I are paying off. Its very hard. It would be nice if Social Workers were protected to have at least a base pay of 45-50k starting out of grad school with just the MSW and could go up from there. Also another thing I was never able to qualify for the student loan forgiveness because I had would have had to be at a job where I was making less than 30,000 a year (where I started) and basically live pay check to paycheck for 10 years. I was basically in poverty at that job and had to live with friends and could only afford to pay them 250 a month for a room on their house. If it weren’t for them I would not have been able to survive on that 29,000 year salary with cost of living, having even like a studio appartment and paying my loans. I was forced to work for a for profit agency (because I needed the pay increase badly), and so because of this I couldn’t qualify for any of the student loan forgiveness for social workers. I feel its ridiculous the types of salaries and jobs a masters level social worker has to be forced to take to get any student loan forgiveness. That program seems like a bit of a joke to me.

  3. Despite social workers’ invaluable contributions, their salaries continue to lag behind those of other helping professions such as nurses, police and high school teachers, according to the Bureau of Labor of Statistics. In addition to low pay, social workers face 30+ caseloads. Social workers are the advocates for the children whose parents/guardian are unable to do so. As a society we have stripped children’s ability to self-advocate for their wants and needs. We have labelled them as too underdeveloped to be decision makers for themselves. This underlying social force of needing advocates for children in need implores us to ensure that their rights are taken care of adequately. How can we do this? By supporting those that advocate for those children, the social workers. Let’s help advocate for our social workers and helping them get the pay they deserve!

  4. Lets start a Social Work Union nation wide. Contact me at darrylwalker1989@gmail.com, for anyone who is interested. If we join together, and allow our voices to be heard nationwide. We will get more attention to this matter.

  5. I understand the NASW can’t participate in a union because it’s a non-profit, however how could we start one or is their one that exists already?

  6. I’m a social worker at a Hospice. N yes we get paid nothing it’s pretty sad and the fact is we will not get any pay raises because they dont take our work seriously. I’m actually going for an MHA and probably going for Associates in Nursing, I love helping people but I’m not going to live in poverty no way.

  7. What I have found particularly discouraging Over the last 8 years (or providing medical social work in health care) is the disregard and lack of Value for what social work brings to the table.
    1) they are filling our roles with bachelor level psych-nurses to perform mental health related assessments and counseling. 2. They are filling our roles with non social service associate or bachelor level “case managers”. Not disregarding these people, but they do not have the training or expertise in the areas a LCSW. But are paid the same or more. Also, I have been pressured as a home health medical social worker for productivity that is being delegated in areas that are already filled. Another frustration is every other master level discipline (and many bachelor level) make an avg of 30-50k more a year then the LCSW. Same concept applies in the school setting. With most bachelor level educators making same or more as master level licensed social workers. And cannot even compare to master level educators influence rom of compensation.
    Again my point is not to discredit other disciplines but to highlight the poor value and compensation of social workers. When I was young without family I did not mind as much but after 17 years in the field and with a family, it has become very discouraging.

    • This is exactly why in 15 years in this field I did NOT go on to get my LCSW or MSW. The experience in the field seems to be just as valuable (or maybe invaluable) as having a higher degree.
      That said, in sitting in additional classes to bolster my education as a social worker, I could have taught the damn class. The other reality that i’m seeing is that the work of those who stick with it and aren’t part of the extreme turnover aren’t valued any more or less than those who are walking in fresh.
      I definitely agree with you on all accounts and am right there with you in feeling the discouragement of working in the field for now 15 years and feeling as though very little value is credited to the work.

  8. I agree that there should be a national union that advocates for social workers.

  9. the basic pay is less, as well as the hike after 6 months

  10. What is the NASW doing to Advocate for Social Workers? Many of my peers are switching to nursing because they Advocate for their professionals. Why do we not have a union? Why does the NASW not advocate for us? In all of these comments not one is from the NASW replying to our concerns.

    • Good morning Ms. West:

      Thank you for your comment. We understand your frustration. Social workers need to be better compensated. Let me tell you some of things NASW is doing to achieve this.

      NASW is advocating for social workers on the state and national level. Several chapters have successfully pushed regulations or legislation to ensure educated and licensed social workers are hired for certain state government positions. They have also pushed to protect the social work license so people who are not social workers cannot hold the title.

      On a federal level NASW is pushing two bills that would raise Medicare reimbursement rates for clinical social workers and get the federal government to focus on bolstering the social work workforce. This would include looking at raising salary levels. We recommend you visit the NASW advocacy website (https://www.socialworkers.org/Advocacy) and visit the policy page to learn more about the Improving Access to Mental Health Act and the Social Work Reinvestment Act.

      We are also concerned that social work is losing ground in the health care arena. NASW offers a case management certification that will give social workers an advantage in getting hired in health care and other settings. You can learn more about it on this website (https://www.socialworkers.org/Careers/Credentials-Certifications/Apply-for-NASW-Social-Work-Credentials/Certified-Advanced-Social-Work-Case-Manager).

      The New York Community Trust has also given NASW and the Council on Social Work Education a multi-year grant to train social workers to take on more leadership in the health care arena. Here is a short video about the Social Work HEALS program. Please take time to watch it (https://spark.adobe.com/video/Rl3j1ISI1AEbs). You can also find out more about the program on the NASW Foundation website (www.naswfoundation.org).

      NASW and its chapters also repeatedly reach out to the media to improve how social workers are portrayed and correct inaccurate portrayals of the profession. Raising the public stature and respect of social workers is one way to help improve salaries. Visit the NASW website http://www.socialworkersspeak.org, which we use to monitor the media and promote films and news that positively portray social workers.

      As regards unions NASW cannot function as one because it is a nonprofit organization. So NASW cannot collectively bargain for salaries. However, we can, and do, advocate for regulations and legislation that support the profession. We will never stop doing this.

      Again, thanks for taking the time to comment. If you have additional questions or what like to discuss ways to improve salaries, please email me and let’s set up a time to talk. I would more than happy to share your opinions with appropriate NASW staff.


      Greg Wright
      NASW Public Relations Manager

    • Just because NASW *itself* cannot function as a union, doesn’t mean you all can’t help us advocate for one. I have serious doubts that state-by-state bills are going to create the change we need at the pace we need it.

      I e-mailed someone at NASW about why you will not back unionization months ago, and never received a response. Be honest – is it because you’re concerned about losing backing from funders? And if that is the case, shouldn’t your concerns about social workers being ethically treated take priority over your financial backing?

      One other kind of unrelated question – is NASW doing anything to push for nationwide licensure? It seems to me that this would make sooo much more sense in our modern world. I have family in New York, California, Texas, Indiana, and Wisconsin. If I had the ability to practice telehealth counseling in all those places, without having to individually transfer my license to each, I would be able to help so many more people. I’m sure many social workers out there are in the same boat.

    • Thanks for our comment Ms. Ogle.

      NASW and its chapters do lobby to raise social work salaries or hire professional social workers for certain jobs. As you stated we cannot function as a union. We are not worried about losing “backers.” We really wish you would refrain from saying that because it is simply untrue. As regards licensing NASW is supporting the Association of Social Work Board plan to make it easier for one state to accept another state’s license. We will release a podcast on that soon!

      Have a good day.

      Greg Wright
      NASW Public Relations Manager

    • Hi Ogle,

      I would like to start a union so how do we get started we shouldn’t have to re-invent the wheel. We could reach out to sieu

    • Ms. Ogle,

      I appreciate the way you think. Please contact me as some colleagues and I are in the planning process. clbarton04@yahoo.com

    • NASW is useless, all they do is charge insane prices for everything offered and ask for money. I have the same amount of education as a friend in her first year as a nurse and she makes 50 thousand more than me. We need a union and we need to demand better pay. No other licensed professionals with graduate degrees are treated with such disrespect. We didn’t go into this to be rich, but asking for respect and proper compensation is not too much to ask.

    • Thanks for your comment Sam. We disagree that NASW is useless. The salary issue is complex and will take continued concerted efforts to address. NASW Chapters are working to make sure certain jobs, especially state government ones with better salaries and school social work jobs, are reserved for social workers. Please go to our Chapter Highlights page to learn about such initiatives: https://www.socialworkers.org/About/Chapters/Chapter-Highlights. NASW is also pressing for legislation that would raise social work compensation and salary. They are the Improving Access to Mental Health Act and the Social Work Reinvestment Act. Go to our Advocacy website to learn more about these initiatives: https://www.socialworkers.org/Advocacy/Policy-Issues. NASW is lobbying for student loan forgiveness for social workers. That information is also on our Advocacy page. NASW and its chapters also work on title protection and getting respect for social work, including going after media that mislabel other professions as social workers. Go to SocialWorkersSpeak.org to learn what we are doing to raise the profile of social workers in media. Of course we will continue to work hard on this and welcome your help in doing this and giving us recommendations on additional actions we can take. Thanks for the work you do as a social worker and know we are working on this.

    • josselyn west: i agree. so sick of being a social worker already! thankless job. wish i had never gotten into it. i could be retired by now with a full ride had i gone into teaching in public schools. at this rate i will die working in a field i abhor.

  11. Title protection is needed in all states. Also more focus from the NASW on building our profession instead of mainly focusing on social causes. Camft and other psychological advocates push for their professions first.

  12. The Social Work profession has not been good about developing its statement of value. It seems to range from “We take children away from their parents” to “I don’t know” to “It’s a very broad field, which you can do anything with”- that, to me, is the same thing as saying we do everything and nothing.

    As a starting point, I go with what a fellow attendee of a CEU workshop said of the social work- we are one of the only Master’s educated professions that holds itself accountable to leading towards equity, reducing discrimination, and promoting social justice. At a time when companies are recognizing the (actual monetary) value that diversity brings, we ought to be very competitive in the market. Similarly, there is a renewed appreciation for the concerns of underserved populations (immigrants, LGBTQ+, people struggling with addictions), and we ought to be at a premium in this environment.

    It won’t do the profession any good if our value statement is “We’re like a nurse, but more educated.”

  13. Ms Angela Dynott

    In the past, before I receive any pay raise as an employee, which has been a C.O.L.A. or a cost of living adjustment, I had to take on more job responsibility tasks in addition to doing an outstanding job with a positive evaluation and or take national or state competency exams. Additionally, also due to my own initiative I voluntary took on continuing education courses of interest including independent study versus the recent compelling forces of licensing board requirements which appreciatively sets a minimum uniform standard. This was an example of raising the standard. For years, I also was under the influence and training that to work in specialty jobs such as for example, a Clinical Psychiatric Social Worker, the minimum competence was a Masters degree which sets a minimum required top salary. Unlike nursing for example where you typically can receive a H.S. diploma and about two years or less of nursing education training to qualify to be called a Nurse LPN or take the national nurses exam to be called and registered as a US nurse or R.N. which is not a license. Nurses typically are found in one type of environmental setting and like other integral member of the health care team, raised their voice for improved salary. Social Workers are found in many diverse places such as health care facilities, school-education facilities, court legal settings, mental health care facilities, housing rehab, child protective services, family and children services, addiction treatments facilities, policy and civic services, philanthropy and charity, religious institutions to name a few. They also intersect and collaborate in a team approach in the care of service to others. Consequently, the public may not have a standard uniform definition of a Social Worker so their tasks, skills may translate only depending on their specific work settings and any of such tasks or skills could be a stand alone career. For this reason the salary may vary greatly depending on deviation from some of these factors. Its also a field dominated by the female gender in the direct service line. Its a serious concern because a lower salary has caused some single adults who are also taxed more to be employed with more than a single job to meet the escalating cost demands of modern society creating a over work time imbalance which could possible cause premature exhaustion. Finally, As salary rise due to standardized criteria, more men will seek the necessary credential to flock to that line or work which sardonically I say raises salary.

    • I could not agree more. A major reason why salaries in social work are so low is because it is such a female-dominated field. And vice versa – few men join the field because they would refuse to work for the salaries we work for. Almost every social worker I know works 2-3 jobs (some not even in the field) in order to make ends meet. The men who ARE in the field quickly rise up the ranks and become managers and administrators, which I believe they are able to do in part due to implicit bias. Then by being in positions of power, they maintain the status quo. I don’t know what to do about any of it, but standardized salaries are an interesting idea. And what better way to establish standardized salaries than to have an all-encompassing social work union similar to that of nurses. Just saying. I don’t think it will ever happen though because no one fights for us, least of all ourselves.

  14. I listened to the webinar and found Dr. Sinclair’s statements to be a good opening for this series. When discussing a marketing campaign, the profession needs to identify HOW it surpasses other helping professions to achieve superior outcomes.

    The problem is, the profession has failed to outperform because it has failed to measure, analyze and improve its interventions. If you are not measuring your practice fidelity, please know payer sources (including managed care and legislative bodies) are measuring accordingly.

    Another way to view this is marketing what is Value-Added in Social Work services. What is the customer willing to pay for? Is this service unique? Is the work being done right the first time or does it need re-work?

    The old way if touting our training and experience, without quantification, will do nothing to raise salaries.

  15. I believe it is vital that NASW continue the fight to increase social worker salaries. The teaching and nursing professions have managed to secure good salaries and form strong unions to advocate on their behalf. The social work profession does not get the recognition or compensation it deserves.We advocate for others but also need to advocate for ourselves. I live in New York where the cost of living is high and my social worker salary lags behind. It will be difficult to attract new workers to the profession and retain the workers we have if the salary issue is not adequately addressed.

  16. I believe this issue will need to begin with individual state licensing boards and private insurance companies. I applied for a position for a local crisis mobile response unit. As a masters level social worker, the pay range was $16-$18 an hour. For the licensed clinical social worker position, the pay range was $22-$24 an hour. For the registered nurse, with only a 2 year degree and license requirement, the pay started at $26 an hour. To be succinct, this is insanely unfair. To have gotten in significant debt to obtain the required graduate degree and still require 2 years of clinical supervision before even being eligible for licensure, delays social workers ability to advance in the profession. There is no reason why the educational and clinical training for social workers should equal that of a licensed advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP) or higher, but be paid less than an associates or even bachelors level registered nurse. I think that state licensing boards need to amend the licensing requirements, particularly in Florida, to allow for licensure sooner, particularly as students are required to have 2 years of clinical supervision as a graduate student, and then another 2 years afterward whereas nurse’s clinical rotations as a student count toward their licensure. Further, lobbying insurance companies to begin approving reimbursements to masters level providers would allow nonprofit social work agencies or private practices to hire masters level social workers at competitive rates, as they can recoup some of their salary via claim reimbursements. I have had my masters degree for over 6 months and have yet to receive a job offer making more than $38k a year. There’s something significantly wrong with that picture when a registered nurse can earn $50k or higher right after completing their two year program.

    • Jordan Schillings

      I also live in Florida, and the salary ranges that I have been coming across are sometimes even below $30,000 for a bachelors (or even masters!) level social worker. It is disheartening.

    • The job of state licensing boards is to protect the consumer from harm, not promote or regulate reimbursement rates. I am a former employee of a managed care company and can report the outcomes of clinical social workers were NO DIFFERENT from Mental Health Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists and Psychologists.

      You can’t lobby for higher salaries without quantifiable supporting evidence. Nursing continues to advance their profession because they do this very well. We need to do it too.

  17. This feels like blaming the victim. We don’t have a collective bargaining force. We need a SW union. I agree that we need a PR campaign. SW are portrayed on TV and film but only as the “bad guy” either by taking children away from parents or leaving children with abusive parents. NASW needs to step up its game.

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