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New Report Provides Insights into New Social Workers’ Demographics, Income, and Job Satisfaction

ALEXANDRIA, VA - The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), National Association of Social Workers (NASW), and George Washington University Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity released findings from social workers completing their master of social work (MSW) degrees that detail key facts about the social work profession.

The report, The Social Work Profession: Findings from Three Years of Surveys of New Social Workers, presents a comprehensive view of where and how social workers are serving clients and communities across the country. The report provides insights into new social workers’ demographic and educational backgrounds, the types of jobs they are taking, the populations they are serving, their experience in the job market, and their satisfaction with their new jobs. The 2019 survey introduced new questions on student educational debt and whether the respondent was a first-generation college graduate.

“Reports like this are valuable to refining social work education so that graduates of accredited social work programs are prepared to face the challenges of tomorrow,” said CSWE President and CEO Darla Spence Coffey, PhD, MSW. “There are encouraging trends in this report and issues that require focused attention. For example, social workers take on significant debt in order to receive the education needed to serve populations in critical need of access to medical and mental health care.”

The survey also shows that graduates who identified as Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino reported facing higher levels of debt than their White colleagues. Both CSWE and NASW believe this is an issue worthy of further investigation.

"This research is invaluable. As demand for social work expertise grows, it is critical to understand who is joining the social work labor force and how their professional needs are changing,” said NASW Chief Executive Officer Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW. “The increasing diversity in the social work profession is certainly good news, but we must also work to ensure that all social workers have the supports they need to thrive in all phases of their careers."

Demographic Information

New social workers are predominantly women (90%) and are diverse in terms of race and ethnicity. More than 22% of new social workers are Black/African American and 14% are Hispanic/Latino. In terms of educational backgrounds, nearly two-thirds (66%) of new MSWs received bachelor’s degrees in non-social work fields.

The study also found that MSW programs equally attract younger, less experienced students and older, more experienced students. Twenty-six percent of MSW graduates had less than one year of work experience and an average age of 26, compared to 27% of graduates who had six or more years of work experience and an average age of 40.

The findings reveal that many new social workers are the first generation in their families to graduate college. Overall, more than 46% of the 2019 MSW graduates were the first ones in their families to graduate college; this was particularly true for Hispanic/Latinos (73%) and Black/African American individuals (57%).

Job Satisfaction

The majority of MSWs were serving high-need populations regardless of the overall focus or setting of their practice. The majority of respondents (90.4%) were very or somewhat satisfied with their new positions, and 82.6% were very or somewhat satisfied with their benefits. Satisfaction with salary was lower, with 72.8% being very or somewhat satisfied.

Populations Served

More than four out of five respondents who were working in social work or social work-related positions were in direct (or clinical) work with individuals, families, or groups (82%). In terms of populations served, more than one-third of new social workers commonly work with children and families (34.9%). The second most common practice focus was people with mental health disorders, cited by more than a quarter of respondents (25.9%).

More Information

The Social Work Profession: Findings from Three Years of Surveys of New Social Workers, is available for download here. The report is based on responses from nearly 3,400 social workers who completed their master of social work (MSW) degrees since 2017.

About the Council on Social Work Education

Founded in 1952, the Council on Social Work Education is the national association representing social work education in the United States. Its members include more than 800 accredited baccalaureate and master’s degree social work programs, as well as individual social work educators, practitioners, and agencies dedicated to advancing quality social work education.

About the National Association of Social Workers

Founded in 1955, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the United States. NASW works to enhance the growth and development of its members, to create and maintain professional standards for all social workers, and to advance sound social policies that improve individual, family and community well-being. NASW advocates for the nation's workforce of 700,000 social workers through its network of 55 Chapters.