It’s expensive to live in New York City, especially if a salary doesn’t keep up with the cost of living. And social workers who can’t afford to live where they work could get frustrated and move on, leaving behind a deficit of qualified professionals.
These are a couple of the driving forces in developing the NYC chapter’s equitable salaries campaign, said Emily Foote, program and communications associate at NASW-New York City.
Through the campaign, which began in January with a petition [now closed] on Change.org, the chapter is working toward raising social work salaries so what their members earn financially matches the important work they do.
Foote, who has a master’s degree in social work, said the chapter feels strongly that salaries for social workers in New York City should be more in line with the higher salaries made by other professions, such as law and nursing.
“Licensed professional social workers have advanced degrees, which are an economic investment,” Foote said. “If you look at other professions that require an advanced degree, like law and nursing, the salaries tend to be higher. In order to make life here as a social worker livable, the salary needs to be more in line with other professions that require an advanced degree and offer higher pay.”
Robert Schachter, the chapter’s executive director, said social workers’ lower wages isn’t anything new. They are often placed in positions where funding is limited, he said, and the profession is predominantly women — about 80 percent — who get paid less than their male counterparts. This, Schachter added, is a national issue in and of itself.
But the chapter decided the time had come to take on the salary issue after results from a member survey last summer revealed that social work salaries are something members consistently want addressed.
“Some social workers here need three jobs in order to make ends meet,” Schachter said. “When you are that concerned about just making ends meet, it puts a crimp on the capacity for professional development and reflection. Those are key components to doing professional social work.”
He said the Change.org petition is the first step, and the chapter has met with Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. They are also communicating with Mayor Bill de Blasio to advocate for equitable social work salaries.
The chapter has asked its members to write to their legislators about the importance of raising social work salaries, Schachter said, adding that the chapter is trying to approach the issue from a positive angle by highlighting the value of social work. He said it is important to emphasize that higher salaries will help recruit a workforce capable of handling the Affordable Care Act’s national goals in behavioral health care, and prevent qualified professionals from leaving the field all together.
“We want the agencies, nonprofits, health care organizations and other places where social workers are employed to realize the importance of an equitable salary,” Schachter said. “The issue of not getting higher pay is a critical concern to our members, and this is something we’re all working on together.”
The petition is open for anyone to sign, and Schachter hopes it will help other chapters develop their own approach to help members get higher pay.
“This will be a process of discovering and of trying to strategically plan next steps as the campaign unfolds,” he said. “Even though this is a New York City effort, we encourage others to sign on. The issue of helping or promoting the value and contribution of social workers goes hand in glove with salary.”
For more information visit NASW-NYC.
Salaries campaign to be discussed at NASW conference
Sandra Bernabei, president-elect of the NASW New York City Chapter; Tracy Whitaker, director of NASW’s Center for Workforce Studies and Social Work Practice; and Robert Schachter, executive director of NASW’s New York City Chapter, will speak about the equitable salaries campaign at the NASW national conference in July.
Schachter said New York City has about 20,000 social workers (not all are NASW members.) The starting salary for a social worker in the city is between $41,000 and $43,000 a year. A social work starting salary in a hospital is between $49,000 and $50,000 a year, he said.
In a higher-paid setting such as a hospital, other professions will get paid more than a social worker for doing comparable work, Schachter said.
For example, he said, a nurse doing case management will earn about $100,000 a year. A social worker in a hospital doing case management will earn half that amount annually.