What is a Social Worker?

What is a social worker and what do social workers do on a daily basis? Social workers are educated professionals who work to improve their community in a number of ways. Most social workers are employed full-time and work in a clinical or community setting. Child and family social workers assist families in obtaining necessary services like food stamps or counseling. Healthcare social workers can be found in hospices, nursing homes or support groups, where they assist patients with the psychological ramifications of disease. Mental health social workers can be found at hospitals and psychological clinics assisting patients with drug addictions or mental illnesses. Finally, school social workers are employed by educational institutions and assist students and staff.

Education, Training, and Experience

Social workers must earn a bachelor’s degree in social work and become licensed or certified by their state. An undergraduate program covers sociology, mental health and public policy, and requires an internship or field work. Some positions, including all clinical and most educational jobs, require a master’s degree in social work. A graduate program takes two years to complete. An undergraduate degree in social work is not required for most master’s programs, but a basic understanding of psychology and sociology is necessary. Social workers at all levels must have the compassion and emotional maturity to assist clients in difficult situations.

How much do Social Workers make?

Compensation for social workers is low compared to other jobs with similar education requirements, but the personal satisfaction gained from helping vulnerable members of the community makes up for the low pay. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2010 median annual wage of social workers was $42,480. Healthcare social workers earn the most, and mental health workers earn the least. Educational social workers had a median wage of $54,260. Social workers with master’s degrees can expect to earn more compensation. Many government jobs offer guaranteed annual raises. Social workers in urban areas earn more than rural workers.

Future Outlook

The need for social workers will rise substantially by 2020. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates employment will grow by twenty-five percent. The highest growth will be for healthcare social workers, as baby boomers age and need assistance. Mental health workers will also experience large growth rates as public policy pushes drug offenders into treatment plans rather than jail. Educational social workers may have additional opportunities in some areas, but it will depend on the budget management of local and state government. Social workers have many opportunities to serve their communities: Non-profits, government organizations, schools and healthcare facilities all need the services of social workers. Because of the high demand for these educated professionals, there’s no easy answer to the question of “What is a social worker?”