Mass. Chapter Surveys Social Work Salaries

— Heidi Sfiligoj, News Staff

NASW's Massachusetts Chapter has surveyed social workers in its state to provide members with information about social work salaries, employment levels and working conditions.

"This survey demonstrates that social service agencies in Massachusetts face ongoing challenges in providing sufficient employment opportunities, remuneration, and support for their professional social work staff," the study states. "The findings highlight the challenges faced by those entering social work practice, those approaching or moving beyond the traditional retirement age, as well as those from a variety of other professional groups."

The study found that social workers in the state who work full time earn a median of $53,000, almost entirely from one social work position. The salary for the middle 50 percent of BSWs falls between $40,400 and $58,000, while the salary for the middle 50 percent of MSWs falls between $42,000 and $64,000.

The license level and years of experience are the two characteristics most linked to an enhanced salary. Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) holders make a median of $55,817, while Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW) holders earn a median of $44,000.

Median incomes range from $40,000 for social workers with two or fewer years of experience to $62,000 for professionals who have been working at least 25 years.

Starting full-time salaries for MSWs have fallen 17.7 percent from the 1970s, when they were $46,440 in today's dollars, to a median of $37,760 during the present decade.

However, those working full time generally experience an increase in their salary, typically between 50 percent and 60 percent, over the course of their careers.

The majority of this increase occurs in the first 10 to 20 years, but there are some declines in salary after that.

The survey found the highest-paid positions to be in hospitals and medical centers, with median salaries of $62,607, and the lowest-paid positions to be in health and behavioral health outpatient clinics ($43,500 to $44,652). In respect to agency auspices, the highest salaries were found in the federal government ($65,500) and the lowest in private, for-profit agencies ($44,000).

A third of the respondents (33.9 percent) describe their salaries as good or very generous, 29.5 percent view them as adequate, 28.5 percent see them as inadequate, and 8.4 percent characterize them as very poor.

Employment levels were lower than expected, with just 60.7 percent of the respondents working full time, 24.8 percent working part time and 14.5 percent not working at all.

NASW members constituted 53 percent of respondents and showed lower levels of unemployment and higher salaries than respondents who are not currently, or never have been, members of NASW.

Another surprising finding was that even full-time agency-based professionals were not receiving proper fringe benefits.

Out of the respondents who work at least 35 hours each week, 29.3 percent do not have a retirement plan, 17.7 percent are not given health insurance and another 17.7 percent are not provided with sick days or vacation days.

These percentages are even worse, according to the study, for part-time social workers and private practitioners, as 53.3 percent of part-time workers do not receive medical insurance.

The employed social workers who were surveyed work 38.9 hours each week on average, and 37.3 of those hours are in social work positions. Out of that time, 56.3 percent is spent in direct service.

For the social workers whose main responsibility is direct service, 65 percent of their time is spent in direct service.

The survey also found that 50.6 percent of social workers took out loans to help pay for their social work education, and 39.8 percent are still paying them off.

It is taking graduates from social work programs an average of 2.1 to three months to find a job.

The number of social workers who take part-time jobs after receiving their first degree has risen from zero percent in the 1970s to 11.8 percent in the present decade, while there has been a decrease in full-time initial appointments.

The chapter's survey was compared against a national survey NASW conducted in 2001 and a survey salary commissioned in 2007.

"In both cases, despite the dramatically higher costs of housing and living in general in Massachusetts, the salaries in the state are similar to or only slightly higher than those from across the nation. But the most outstanding difference is a much higher range of salaries resulting in higher income inequality in Massachusetts than either of the other studies have revealed for the nation as a whole, highlighting the difficulty of individuals entering the field and the better opportunities for those who successfully persist," the study stated.

According to the study, the chapter chose to conduct the survey due to a lack of information in the state about social work salaries, employment levels and working conditions, and because its staff was consistently receiving questions from job applicants and employers about acceptable salaries.

The report comes from "Social Work in Massachusetts: A Survey of Employment, Compensation, and Working Conditions," which 517 LSWs, LCSWs, and LICSWs in the state completed.

The study was conducted, with the support of chapter staff, and authored by Christopher G. Hudson, Ph.D., DCSW, a professor at the School of Social Work at Salem State College in Salem, Mass.