Career Opportunities and Job Outlook
Social workers make up a fairly substantial portion of the overall workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are currently more than 715,000 social work jobs in the U.S. Not surprisingly, some of the most populous states — California, Texas, New York, Florida, Massachusetts — employ the most social workers. Across all states, the largest employers in order are: individual and family services, local government (excluding education and hospitals), ambulatory healthcare services, and state government (excluding education and hospitals).
Perhaps more important, the need for social workers is projected to grow by 12% through 2030. This is supported by industry data from March 2022, which showed more than 370,000 job openings.
In terms of annual salaries, social workers were earning a median of $51,760 as of May 2020, while counselors and community service specialists were earning a median of $47,500. Salaries may vary, however, depending on the type of employer.
Types of Social Work Practice
To help explain the different roles social workers might perform, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has developed three categories of social work practice, although they sometimes overlap. Micro practice usually applies to licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) who help clients understand their emotions and behaviors while teaching coping skills. At the mezzo practice level, LCSWs typically work with groups, such as families, faith communities, and schools by helping them understand and resolve issues, but they may bring in other resources. Social workers involved in macro practice work on behalf of at-risk populations, usually serving as a representative and advocate for a larger group.
Careers in Social Work by Specialty
Social work professionals can choose to work in a number of different settings with diverse populations. To begin preparing for one of these specific career paths, social work students often start thinking about potential specializations while still in school. After graduating, many pursue certification in their core area from the NASW or other professional organizations. The following table introduces 12 of the most common types or specialties of social work.