In an older post, I discussed why other majors seem to make more money than others. While this article focused mostly on the surplus of humanities and social science majors relative to job demand, I briefly touched on social work and how its altruistic nature results in less profit and hence lower salaries.
What differentiates social work from other humanities and social science fields is its increasing demand. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, social worker employment is expected to grow faster than average in the next decade. Contributing to this trend are the aging baby boomer generation, growing student enrollments in schools, and prison systems increasingly requiring substance users to participate in rehab programs as part of their sentence.
Now, a demand for social workers combined with a shortage of social workers due to retirement or burnout should result in higher wages, right? Unfortunately, many of us working in the field know that this is not the case. Why is it that basic economic rules seem to ignore the social work profession entirely?
While exploring some online forums, I came across a relevant blog post by fellow social worker Dr. Lynn K. Jones. In "Better Wages for Social Workers...Why Not, Dr. Jones further elaborates on points I've made in the past regarding why social workers are underpaid, such as lack of title protection and self-advocacy within the profession. I won't attempt to summarize here, as her article essentially speaks for itself.
The only part of Dr. Jones' article I will discuss here is the "Career Strategy" section, which tells readers to take control of their careers and not leave it up to "chance". As a first year MSW student, I also told someone that I was led into a social work career as opposed to choosing it. However, I also went into my masters program with the intention of obtaining a decent paying job upon graduation, exploring options within my targeted wage and areas of interest. While I'll never make as much as an engineer, my current salary is pleasantly higher than what I had expected. Indeed, by doing some research and having a game plan for what to expect from a social work career, one can definitely obtain a job that is both financially and emotionally fulfilling. I feel this is the best way for social workers to improve their wage prospects while waiting for our advocacy efforts to produce results on a macroscopic level.
Anyway, check out Dr. Jones' blog post. It's a must read for all social workers concerned about the future of their wages.