New York State Chapter Study Shows Social Work Pay Disparities

By Paul R. Pace

two hands holding uneven stacks of coins

An imbalance exists between social workers’ training and work experience, and the associated salaries, according to an analysis performed by the NASW New York State Chapter.

The chapter released its 2022 Social Work Salary Analysis Report, which consists of 17 questions ranging from demographic information to inquiries regarding salary change over time.

The report notes that 34 percent of respondents stated they have not received a salary increase in five years from the initial date of hire, “making them feel undervalued.”

The chapter promoted the survey on social media outlets for two months, which resulted in 1,230 survey respondents. The NASW-NYS policy team along with a consultant, Heather Horton, PhD, MSW, analyzed the data.

The report explains that New York State is the second-most expensive state to live in, behind California. However, social work salaries across the country do not reflect the average cost of living in each state, the authors said.

California’s average salary for social workers is $68,913, whereas New York’s average salary for social workers is $60,698. New York is behind the pay equity movement for social workers, the report states. Due to the immense diversity of roles and settings for social workers, there is a range of salaries. More than half of the survey respondents reported their starting salary was between $40,000 and $70,000. This range is consistent with the average salary range for social workers in the United States, which was $50,390 in May 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2022.

“This is problematic when you take into consideration the vast differences in cost of living throughout the country,” the authors state. “It is essential that social work salaries reflect the cost of living in the states they reside.”

The study is a result of New York State social workers who expressed their concern and frustration with their compensation and salaries at the chapter’s Capitol Advocacy Day in 2022. At the event, New York State Sen. Roxanne J. Persaud heard the struggles social workers were describing. Later, staff from NASW-NYS, connected with Persaud to conduct a study of social work salaries in the state to advocate for higher pay.

The authors noted it is vital for New York to have a workforce that addresses the high need for mental health professionals. 

“Therefore, it is important to recognize the low salary, high student debt, and racial barriers social workers face,” they said. 

“The staff and volunteers at NASW-NYS are committed to writing legislation that will guarantee higher salaries for social workers in New York State offices and nonprofit organizations as well as developing models of loan forgiveness as an incentive to attract graduate students into the social work profession. These are just a few examples of how to address social work workforce disparities.”

To understand the level of disparity for social workers in the state, a comparison was drawn with nurses, which is considered a similar profession. It was surprising to find a stark difference in pay between the two professions, the report said. For example, nurses and social workers have comparable education, training and job responsibilities, yet nurses earn higher salaries at each level of professional licensure and certification, the report stated.

“Society cannot expect social workers to continue providing mental health and crisis services in extraordinary times while these disparities exist,” the authors said. 

“Social workers must be equitably compensated for the services they provide.” There are other solutions to be explored, the authors said. 

“The team at NASW-NYS is open to other ideas and we are more than willing to collaborate with partners to ensure equity in the social work profession.”

Visit the New York State Chapter website.

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