Social Work Job Growth: Pursue a Rewarding CareerSocial Work Job Growth: Pursue a Rewarding CareerSocial Work Job Growth: Pursue a Rewarding Career

For those who care deeply about human dignity and aspire to a career in service, social work offers a wide range of opportunities to help people.

Social workers assist individuals of all ages, races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations. Many social workers specialize in providing services for a specific subset of the population, including vulnerable populations affected by:

  • Mental/physical illness
  • Disability
  • Addiction
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Unemployment
  • Food insecurity
  • Incarceration

Many potential opportunities are available for individuals with degrees in social work. As the need for human services expands, job growth in social work fields will give graduates the chance to pursue rewarding careers.

Social worker smiling and visiting clients at home.

What’s Driving Demand for More Social Workers?

Instability, inequality, and imperfect social systems are spurring the need for compassionate experts who can help individuals and communities thrive.

Around 70 million Americans sought unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, according to a Forbes report. Along with growing income disparities, many American families are looking to social workers for support, whether that means a parent who needs help securing employment after a major life change or a student who requires encouragement as they struggle to balance schoolwork and a stressful home life.

Social work services are in high demand in a variety of areas.

  • Complex social issues. Societal challenges including the opioid crisis, COVID-19 pandemic, homelessness, and an aging population all drive demand for professionals who can help vulnerable groups during crises.
  • Diverse population needs. Social workers support individuals, families, and communities in a wide range of settings. They work in schools, nonprofits, hospitals, and government agencies. These different populations and workplaces can provide exciting, challenging opportunities for social workers.
  • Compassionate policy reform. Social workers do not just work directly with clients — they may also amplify the voices of people from marginalized groups as informed policy advocates for legislation and policies that improve the quality of life for children, adults, and the elderly.

Social workers may support a variety of initiatives to provide better care and services. These include:

  • Child abuse and neglect prevention
  • Civil rights
  • Disability pay
  • Medicaid and Medicare access
  • Reducing mental health stigma
  • Worker’s compensation
  • Unemployment insurance

The Need for Behavioral Health Workers

In many areas of the U.S. there is a shortage of mental health workers, including social workers. Behavioral health needs alone account for much of the anticipated social work job growth.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines “behavioral health” work as the:

  • Promotion of mental health, resilience, and well-being
  • Treatment of mental and substance use disorders
  • Support of those who experience and/or are in recovery from these conditions, along with their families and communities

Social workers help clients develop behavioral health by providing therapy and guidance with navigating social services. They also provide support and education to families and caretakers. Social workers in this capacity act as liaisons between patients, legal representatives, families, and community partners.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), some 138 million people in the U.S. live in mental health professional shortage areas. In these areas, which are often rural and low-income regions or population groups, insufficient access to mental health resources creates higher demand for social workers.

Career Opportunities for Social Workers

Students can prepare for a variety of fulfilling careers by earning their Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. A BSW typically is the entry-level degree for a career in social work.

While a number of roles are available to candidates with BSWs, a Master of Social Work (MSW) is usually required for a role as a licensed clinical social worker. Most states require licensure for nonclinical social workers as well, but education requirements vary by state, and many states offer a baccalaureate social worker license. As the Houston Chronicle reports, 9 in 10 healthcare social worker jobs require a license and more than 5 in 10 require a postgraduate degree.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the most common careers and annual salary figures for social work graduates include:

  • Child, family, and school social workers: $48,430, with 13% projected job growth by 2030
  • Healthcare social workers: $57,630, with 13% projected job growth by 2030
  • Mental health and substance abuse social workers: $48,720, with 15% projected job growth by 2030

For more information about popular job opportunities for social workers, explore Maryville University’s BSW careers page. Students can learn more about the industries hiring BSW graduates and why social work matters.

Social Work Job Growth and Salary

Overall, social work opportunities are outpacing those in other fields. The BLS projects social work job growth of 12% between 2020 and 2030, faster than the average anticipated growth for all jobs.

About 78,300 openings for social workers are projected each year, on average, over the coming decade. Many of these openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or retire from the labor force.

Salary figures generally increase with education level. Students who want to pursue advanced careers — and earn commensurate higher pay — should explore earning a master’s or doctoral degree.

According to PayScale, the median annual salary of social workers with a BSW is around $41,000, while the median annual salary of social workers with an MSW is around $49,000, as of December 2021. Additionally, PayScale reports that those with a doctorate in social work have a median annual salary of around $76,000.

Clinical positions, which normally require at least an MSW, may also earn higher salaries compared to nonclinical social work jobs. Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), for example, had a median annual salary of around $60,000 as of December 2021, according to PayScale.

Make a Difference with a Bachelor of Social Work

Whether working directly with clients or advocating for vulnerable groups through policy reform, social workers play a critical role in helping people access the social services they need. Social workers foster behavioral and mental health in their clientele, supporting individuals and groups who need care the most.

Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Social Work program is designed to prepare students for meaningful and rewarding careers helping vulnerable members of society. Maryville’s program is flexible, affordable, and highly personalized — so students can develop the skills they need to advance their careers after graduation.

Learn how you can achieve your professional goals and help improve lives and your community with a BSW degree. Begin your journey toward becoming a social worker today at Maryville University.

Recommended Reading

BSW vs. MSW: Exploring Two Social Work Degrees

Self-Care Strategies for Social Workers

Improving Community Safety Through Social Work


Association of Social Work Boards, Laws and regulations database

Forbes, “803,000 Americans Filed for Unemployment Last Week: 70 Million Sought Unemployment Benefits Since the Pandemic”

Health Resources and Services Administration, Behavioral Health Workforce Projections

Health Resources and Services Administration, Behavioral Health Workforce Projections, 2017-2030

Health Resources and Services Administration, Shortage Areas

Houston Chronicle, “Careers Available with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work”

Indeed, “How to Become a Social Worker (Education and Training)”

National Association of Social Workers, Careers

National Association of Social Workers, Social Work Specialty Occupational Profiles

PayScale, Average Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) Salary

PayScale, Average Social Worker (BSW) Salary

PayScale, Average Social Worker (MSW) Salary

PayScale, Doctorate (PhD), Social Work (SW) Degree

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Behavioral Health Integration

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Workers

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