Survey Finds Behavioral Health Professionals Earn Less than Fast Food Workers

Apr 21, 2011

According to the 2011 Behavioral Health Salary Survey released by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare (National Council), a licensed social worker with a master’s degree earns less than a manager of a fast food restaurant.

Naturally, this finding is alarming to social workers, and should be equally alarming to those who need behavioral health services for themselves or family members.

However, the National Council acknowledges that these findings may not be representative of the entire behavioral healthcare workforce.  And, while the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) vehemently agrees that social work salaries need to be raised, NASW’s recent compensation study found that the median annual salary for masters’ level social workers in mental health clinics was $50,000, rather than the $23,000 median salary the National Council used to compare social work salaries to those of fast food restaurant managers.

NASW agrees with the National Council that workforce challenges such as salary inequities significantly hinder efforts to recruit and retain a high quality workforce to deliver mental health and substance use treatment services.  Their research highlights how much, we, as a society, undervalue people with mental health and substance use disorders, as well as their providers of service and care.

What did the survey find specifically?

  • A direct care worker in a 24-hour residential treatment center earns a lower median salary ($23,000 a year) than an assistant manager at Burger King ($25,589).
  • The annual salary range for a chief medical officer at a behavioral health organization is $101,000–$150,000, compared to the national average of $183,947–$292,395 for the same position in any other type of healthcare organization.
  • A social worker with a master’s degree in a mental health-addictions treatment organization earns less ($45,344) than a social worker in a general healthcare agency ($50,470).
  • A registered nurse working in a behavioral health organization earns $52,987 compared to the national average for nurses of $66,530.

If you want to stand up for your profession and support salary improvements for social workers, please email your Representative and Senators or call them in support of the Dorothy I .Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act (HR1106/S. 584) today.