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Social Workers - What They Do


How to Advance (Advancement)
Advancement to supervisor, program manager, assistant director, or executive director of a social service agency or department usually requires an advanced degree and related work experience. Other career options for social workers include teaching, research, and consulting. Some of these workers help formulate government policies, by analyzing and advocating policy positions in government agencies, in research institutions, and on legislators' staffs.

Some social workers go into private practice. Most private practitioners are clinical social workers who provide psychotherapy, usually paid for through health insurance or by the client themselves. Private practitioners must have at least a master's degree and a period of supervised work experience. A network of contacts for referrals also is essential.

Employment
Social workers held about 642,000 jobs, in 2008. About 54 percent jobs were in healthcare and social assistance industries, and 31 percent were employed by government agencies. Although most social workers are employed in cities or suburbs, some work in rural areas.

Job Outlook
Employment for social workers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2018. Job prospects are expected to be favorable, particularly for social workers who specialize in the aging population or work in rural areas.

Job Growth
Employment of social workers is expected to increase by 16 percent during the 200818 decade, which is faster than the average for all occupations. The growing elderly population and the aging baby boom generation will create greater demand for health and social services, resulting in rapid job growth among gerontological social workers. Employment of social workers in private social service agencies also will increase.

Employment of child, family, and school social workers is expected to grow by about 12 percent, which is as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for child and family social workers should continue, as these workers are needed to investigate child abuse cases, place children in foster care and with adoptive families. However, growth for these workers may be hampered by the budget constraints of state and local governments, who are amongst the largest employers of these workers. Furthermore, demand for school social workers will continue and lead to more jobs as efforts are expanded to respond to rising student enrollments, as well as the continued emphasis on integrating children with disabilities into the general school population. There could be competition for school social work jobs in some areas because of the limited number of openings. The availability of Federal, State, and local funding will be a major factor in determining the actual job growth in schools.

Mental health and substance abuse social workers will grow by almost 20 percent over the 200818 decade, which is much faster than the average. In particular, social workers specializing in substance abuse will experience strong demand. Substance abusers are increasingly being placed into treatment programs instead of being sentenced to prison. Also, growing numbers of the substance abusers sentenced to prison or probation are, increasingly being required by correctional systems to have substance abuse treatment added as a condition to their sentence or probation. As this trend grows, demand will strengthen for treatment programs and social workers to assist abusers on the road to recovery. Opportunities for social workers in private practice will expand, as they are preferred over more costly psychologists. Furthermore, the passage of legislation that requires insurance plans offered by employers to cover mental health treatment in a manner that is equal to treatment of physical health may increase the demand for mental health treatment.

Growth of medical and public health social workers is expected to be about 22 percent, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. One of the major contributing factors is the rise in the elderly population. These social workers will be needed to assist in finding the best care and assistance for the aging, as well as to support their families. Employment opportunities for social workers with backgrounds in gerontology should be excellent, particularly in the growing numbers of assisted-living and senior-living communities. The expanding senior population also will spur demand for social workers in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, home care agencies, and hospices.

Job prospects are expected to be favorable. Many job openings will stem from growth and the need to replace social workers who leave the occupation. However, competition for social worker jobs is expected in cities where training programs for social workers are prevalent. Opportunities should be good in rural areas, which often find it difficult to attract and retain qualified staff. By specialty, job prospects may be best for those social workers with a background in gerontology and substance abuse treatment.

Earnings
Median annual wages of child, family, and school social workers were $39,530 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $31,040 and $52,080. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,870, and the top 10 percent earned more than $66,430.

Median annual wages of medical and public health social workers were $46,650 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $35,550 and $57,690. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,100, and the top 10 percent earned more than $69,090.

Median annual wages of mental health and substance abuse social workers were $37,210 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $28,910 and $48,560. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,770, and the top 10 percent earned more than $61,430.

Median annual wages of social workers, all other were $46,220 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $34,420 and $60,850. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,400, and the top 10 percent earned more than $74,040.

About 24 percent of social workers are members of a union or covered by a union contract.

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Academic Programs of Interest

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