our everyday life

What Area in Social Work Is the Highest Paid?

by Beth Greenwood

Social workers assist people with life problems or provide mental health care. Educated at the bachelor’s or master’s level, social workers might help with adoptions, handle child abuse cases, refer people to programs that provide financial assistance and health care or treat individuals who have substance abuse issues. Although salaries are similar in many areas of the field, the specialty and work setting a social worker chooses can have an impact on her income.

Social Work Variations

The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups social workers according to specialty and reports salary data for each group. Child, family and school social workers compose the first group, health care social workers the second, and mental health and substance abuse social workers the third. Differences may exist among these groups. Clinical social workers, for example, must be licensed and are required to have a master’s degree. Licensing requirements vary for other social workers according to the state. Work settings also vary -- health care social workers work primarily in hospitals, while child, family and school social workers primarily work for the government. All of these factors may affect income.

Child, Family and School Social Workers

Although the average annual salary for the child, family and school social worker group was $45,300 in 2012, according to the BLS, earnings varied by the place of employment. Those social workers who worked in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals earned $52,050, while the very small number who worked in management, scientific and consulting services earned $52,300. Schools other than elementary and secondary schools paid an average of $55,500, and home health care paid $56,420. Child, family and school social workers earned the most in elementary and secondary schools, with an average annual salary of $59,620.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse

The average annual salary for mental health and substance abuse social workers was $43,340, according to the BLS. As with other social workers, however, work setting affected salary. Those who worked in physicians' offices earned $51,450, while those who worked in general medical and surgical hospitals earned $51,480. Offices of other health practitioners paid $51,630, and specialty hospitals paid $54,910. Mental health and substance abuse workers had the highest earnings in home health care, with an average annual salary of $56,540.

Health Care Social Workers

Health care social workers earned an average annual salary of $51,460 in 2012, according to the BLS. Salaries varied considerably according to place of employment, however. In individual and family services, health care social workers earned $42,110. Those who worked in nursing care facilities earned $45,950. In local government, health care social workers earned $48,680, and in home health care services, they earned $55,720. Most health care social workers were employed in general medical and surgical hospitals, where the average annual salary was $56,960. Specialty hospitals, however, paid the best for health care social workers, with an average annual salary of $61,750 in 2012, making this group the highest-paid of all social workers.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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